When winter is approaching, I often get asked whether it will be cold, snowy, mild, or wet. After a very snowy, colder than average winter of 2013-2014, I told most going into the season that the winter of 2014-2015 would be less snowy, but colder than the winter of 2013-2014. While December did not go according to plan, the overall winter forecast worked out.
When winter weather hits, most compare it to a previous winter or another place where the weather is more extreme. The common phrases I’ve heard this year were “at least it’s not as bad as Boston” and “at least it’s not as bad as last winter.” The latter phrase always gets me thinking. How is this cold season measured against last year? Is this measured by snow? Is this measured by cold? Is this measured by how many days snow has been on the ground? Everyone has a different way to measure a winter, and that’s the way it should be.
So has the cold season of 2014-2015 been worse than that of 2013-2014? Let’s compare the two using several different scales.
When people say “at least it’s not bad as last winter,” I’m assuming they measure the two by a seasonal snowfall total , given that winter 2014-2015 was not as snowy as winter 2013-2014, but winter 2014-2015 was colder. If you measure by how much snow accumulated, 2013-2014 was indeed worst than 2014-2015:
While there have been fewer days with accumulating snowfall this season, storm total snowfall amounts have been bigger in most cases. Through Saturday, there have been 50% fewer days with 1″ or more of snow on the ground compared to 2013-2014’s entire cold season in Cincinnati:
It is highly unlikely that 2014-2015’s count will be anywhere close to 2013-2014’s count. However, the 10″ of snow on the ground at 7am on February 21, 2015 was more than any single day from late 2013 through early 2014.
If you rule out snow, the most common way to measure how brutal a winter was is to compare the average temperature of one meteorological winter (December/January/February) to another. 2014-2015 beat out last winter by 1.25°:
While 1° doesn’t seem like much, that is a significant difference given that the average temperature of the season is the daily average temperature averaged over 3 months.
In the cold season of 2014-2015 so far, there have been 32 days where the high did not reach 32°. That’s two days behind the count from summer 2013 to summer 2014:
It is rare from late March through early November to have a high temperature below 32° in Cincinnati, so the current tally of 32 days for 2014-2015 is unlikely to rise much if at all.
While cold days are inconvenient, cold nights are often more difficult to deal with and are discussed more. In the cold season of 2014-2015, however, there have been fewer days with a low temperature below 0° than last season:
In my opinion, winter 2013-2014 was worse than winter 2014-2015. For the former, the amount of snow was overwhelming, and the shots of cold were sharper. For the latter, the cold was more prolonged and the winter storms produced more snow. This cold season, however, is bottom-heavy, meaning most of the snow and cold came late (and we’re not done yet). Had December 2014 been colder, this cold season would have easily rivaled the cold season of 2013-2014.