Tom Kacich: Light at the end of the Winter of the Dreaded Polar Vortex
Blame it all on the snowmen.
In October, before anyone even thought about putting out the creepy snowmen that infest — some say decorate — virtually every room in our house, the weather here was mild, actually above average.
In November someone started to plan where the snowmen would go. Suddenly the weather became chillier than normal. In December the snowmen climbed out of their storage boxes and settled about the house, looking cute and seasonal but secretively planning their takeover of our weather, the Winter of the Dreaded Polar Vortex.
December too was below normal for temperatures and above normal for snow.
And you know all about January: icier than the relationship between Bruce Rauner and the other Republican gubernatorial candidates, windier than the floor of the U.S. Senate, colder than Illini 3-point shooting.
Based on the forecast through the end of the month — including two more Yukon-like days Monday and Tuesday — this probably will end up being the coldest January in central Illinois in at least 20 years.
Further, the Climate Prediction Center forecasts below normal temperatures and above average precipitation in Illinois through at least Feb. 6. (This is probably an appropriate place to note that the Climate Prediction Center did not accurately predict the climate we are enduring).
But enough of the bad news. How about this: This winter likely won't be as bad as the two worst winters in the recorded weather history of Champaign-Urbana, according to state climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey.
There was the infamous winter of 1977-78, when the average temperature in Champaign-Urbana was 20.2 degrees and we were buried in a record 67.2 inches of snow. The next winter was barely better with an average temperature of 20.4 degrees. But this winter's snow total (as of Friday) is 24.2 inches and the average temperature is around 23 degrees, although there's been a serious trend downward, from 26.6 degrees in December to 20.5 degrees so far this month, according to Angel. And a full month of meteorological winter remains.
More light at the end of this tunnel of snow: Based on historical records the weather only gets better after today. On average, Jan. 26 is the last day with an average high of 33 degrees and a low of 16. Tomorrow's average low is 17 degrees. The average high moves to 34 degrees on Jan. 29 (Wednesday).
February offers appropriate optimism and certain longer and warmer days, and perhaps an end to our Winter of the Dreaded Polar Vortex. At the least some moderation.
Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 28 the amount of daylight per day in Champaign-Urbana increases from 10 hours, 11 minutes to 11 hours, 16 minutes; the average daily high temperature climbs from 34 to 43 degrees; and the average daily low increases from 17 to 24 degrees. Monthly snowfall in January is 6.8 inches, in February it's an inch less.
A month from today the high should be around 42 degrees, two months from today it should be about 54; in three months, 67 degrees.
And, said Angel, a colder-than-normal winter doesn't automatically lead to a colder-than-normal spring.
"I looked at the 10 coldest winters in C-U history and the following spring was 50/50 (half were warmer than average, the other half were colder than average)," he wrote in an email.
Finally, there are all the signs of warmer weather, including baseball, reawakening nature and ice cream.
Baseball spring training begins in less than three weeks, with pitchers and catchers on the St. Louis Cardinals the first to report (Feb. 12) among the three favored local teams. The Cardinals also are first with the full team workout on Feb. 18. The Cubs, though, have the first spring training game on Feb. 27.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District's Maple Sugar Day event — a sign that maple sap is running — is Feb. 22 at Homer Lake.
And the tentative opening date for Jarling's Custard Cup in Champaign is Friday, March 7.
Soon the snowmen will be stashed away in boxes with Christmas decorations and other cold-weather tchotchkes, but here's the best reason to feel good about the coming months: in 125 years of Champaign-Urbana weather records, Jim Angel says that we've always had a spring.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.