CHAMPAIGN – Ah, winter. When nature compensates for shortened days and frigid nights by enveloping the landscape in blankets of crystalline snow. When the soul is warmed by the kaleidoscopic magic of a snowflake caught on an upturned palm. When snowmen and snowball fights make children of us all.
Yeah, not this year.
This year, winter has been a comparatively warm, wet slog toward spring. Snowfall in Illinois was notably lacking, with all but the northwest tip of the state logging below-average totals.
Rain, on the other hand, fell in abundance. February totals landed nearly an inch above average.
So, what’s the deal with winter? Is this year’s weather an anomaly or are we headed towards warmer, wetter winters in general?
To find out, I sat down with state climatologist Trent Ford. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Sarah Nardi: This question may be rooted in nostalgia more so than science, but are winters less snowy than they used to be?
Trent Ford: It’s a good question. The thing about snowfall is that especially in central Illinois, where we’re kind of in the ephemeral part of the snow belt, we very rarely carry snowpack. Our trends are a bit mixed as far as snowfall is concerned. The reason being is that what really makes or breaks a snowfall season in central Illinois is if we catch that one or two systems that can drop multiple inches of snow. We’ve completely missed on those this year. We’ve seen the systems, but it’s just been too warm to produce any snowfall.
So, there isn’t necessarily a significant downward trend that I can point to and say yes, absolutely, we’re seeing less snowfall. The expectation is that winters in coming decades will be more like this winter. And because they’re warmer, a lot of those systems that would normally bring snow are bringing rain.
So, there’s no long-term trend we can make out from the variability, but the projection is that we’re going to see less snow overall in central Illinois in coming winters.
SN: As we come out of winter – and last week’s rainy weather certainly seemed to portend this – are we headed toward a muddy, dreary spring?
TF: The outlooks right now for March – and for especially for the middle of March – are showing higher chances of below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. So, kind of cold and wet. It’s not going to be dead-of-winter kind of cold. But though those outlooks, we could see kind of that cool, wet, muddy, gloomy kind of spring. At least for March. There may be some hints that maybe there will be some warming conditions as we get into April.
SN: Does a cooler, wetter March make things difficult as we head into planting season?
TF: A wet and cool early March may not spell too much trouble if we get a little drier and a little warmer in later March and early April. If we carry that cool and wet through the end of March – certainly into the first week or two of April as we get closer to Easter – that could spell trouble as far as planting delays. So, while we could see some challenges if we continue a wet pattern through March, things aren’t to the extent that I would say I’m really worried about at it this point.