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Madison, Wisconsin Big Snow of Dec. 19-20

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:40 PM GMT on December 21, 2012

Madison, Wisconsin Big Snow of Dec. 19-20

Madison, Wisconsin endured (and many enjoyed!) its fourth greatest 24-hour snowfall on record this past Tuesday-Wednesday, December 19-20 with 15.2”. Other sites in southern Wisconsin picked up 20” of snow, the highest amounts for winter storm ‘Draco’ since it swung out of Colorado earlier in the week.

The path of winter storm ‘Draco’ and its central pressure in millibars (i.e. 82=982 mb). Map from NWS-Milwaukee office.

Madison, the state capital of Wisconsin, has maintained official temperature weather records since 1869 and snowfall records since 1883, one of the longest POR’s (period of record) for such of any U.S. city. So it was quite an accomplishment this week to have registered its 4th greatest 24-hour snowfall on Wednesday and Thursday with a 15.2” storm total. 1.9” fell on Wednesday evening between 8 pm and midnight, and then an additional 13.3” on Thursday until the snowfall ended around 6 pm. The 13.3” on Wednesday was the 2nd greatest calendar total on record (a fairly meaningless statistic since storms do not conveniently occur on single calendar day).

A list of the calendar-day greatest snowfalls recorded in Madison. Table from NWS-Milwaukee office.

Here are the top five greatest 24-hour snowfalls in Madison history:

1) 17.3” on December 3, 1990 (also the calendar day record)

2) 16.1” on December 10-11, 1970

3) 15.4” on February 22-23, 1994

4) 15.2” on December 19-20, 2012

5) 14.5” on March 18-19, 1971

The measurements have been made at Madison’s Truax Field (airport) located about 4 miles northeast of the Capitol Building downtown. Other locations in the Madison area recorded up to 20” (at the WISC-TV studio 7 miles SW of the Capitol) and 19.5” in Middleton, a suburb about 5 miles west of the Capitol. Juneau, in Dodge County, 40 miles northeast of Madison, reported the highest storm total in the state or at any location east of the Rockies with a 20.1” measurement. Another 20” report came from near the town of Mt. Vernon about 20 miles SW of Madison.

A snow map for south-central and southeastern Wisconsin. The SE corner of the state received relatively light accumulations since most of the precipitation fell as rain. Milwaukee picked up 2.23” of precipitation but just 2” of snow. Map from NWS-Milwaukee office.

The heavy wet snow combined with winds gusting to 45 mph caused significant tree damage and power outages across the south-central portion of the state.

This 20”-tall Buddha head sits serenely under about 11” of snow early on Wednesday morning in a Madison residents backyard. Photo by Danny Kahrs.

I will be away for the Christmas Holiday until December 28th. Happy holidays to all!

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Winter Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Hi Chris,
Pretty impressive snowfall total for Madison. From HPC,
here's some snow and wind stats nationwide for this storm.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Some comments on temperature extremes:

According to Wunderground it was -73 F. yesterday in Ojmjakon, Russia. Although it's a bit early in the season for that, it's probably not unheard of. But the temps before and after were in the minus 10-20 range.

Either I missed something, or a cold air mass moved in, dropped the temp by 50 degrees, then moved out all within a day or so. Doesn't seem possible.

Also, the extremes here said it was -72 F. at "Kilimanjaro." It didn't say "Mount," so I assume they meant the city or airport. I couldn't find any data, but I doubt it even gets that cold on the top of the mountain.

Last point, why isn't the temp at the top of the glacier in Greenland ever used as a global low? Here is the link: http://www.summitcamp.org/status/weather/index?per iod=hour

It is -63 as I write this, I've seen it -75 a few winters ago.
Keep a watch to the east, Chris. Over here we're told the UK all-time annual rainfall figures are about to tumble. As it seems to have rained six days in seven since about April - that was when the government warned us all of imminent severe drought, by the way - no one is very surprised.... even less so given that there's been severe flooding somewhere in the UK pretty much every other week for months as well!
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