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updated: 2/29/2012 4:52 PM

Are we having the best winter ever?

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  • Teens play basketball at Community Park in Lisle. A warm winter has made it virtually a year-around sport this year.

       Teens play basketball at Community Park in Lisle. A warm winter has made it virtually a year-around sport this year.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Video: What they predicted

 
 

Call it the nice-winter trifecta.

This winter, so far, has been one of the least snowy, with only six winters in the history of Chicago weather record-keeping having less.

Its average temperature from Dec. 1 through the end of February is one of the highest, with only three previous winters that were warmer.

A complete lack of days where the thermometer dipped to zero degrees Fahrenheit or colder places the 2011-2012 winter among only four such in the region's recorded history.

No other previous benchmark winter fits into all three of those categories like this winter does. So unless your livelihood relies on the traditional, miserable Chicago weather, that means you're probably having the best winter ever.

"It's certainly in the top 10," said Jim Angel, the state's climatologist. "Maybe it is the best if that's the criteria you're using."

Using reports dating back to 1928 from Midway Airport in Chicago, the region's longest serving weather station, Angel examined snowfall amounts and temperatures to compare this winter to the previous 82.

Only the winters of 1982-1983 and 1952-1953 are comparable because they too had higher than normal temperatures and little snowfall. But this winter has had even less snow and averaged warmer temperatures than those two previous mild winters, according to the records.

The winter of 1936-1937 saw the least snow ever in Chicago with just 10.7 inches. This winter comes in at No. 7 with 20.9 inches reported at the Midway weather station. To stay in the top 10, no more than three inches of snow can fall between now and July, Angel said.

"There's another chance of snow on Friday and maybe Sunday, but in most cases it's a discussion of a rain and snow mix," Angel said. "There's no big blizzard on the way."

Keep in mind there are still three weeks of winter to go and Chicago has seen plenty of late spring snow showers.

But weather forecasters believe there's a good chance the pattern of mild weather will continue. It's not like we're talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter and jinxing things.

"I don't think the hammer's going to drop," said Jack Boston, an AccuWeather senior meteorologist based in Pennsylvania. "It's unbelievable."

Our area has averaged a temperature of 32.8 degrees between Dec. 1 and now. During the same time period in 2001-2002, the average temperature was 34.4 degrees. That's the warmest recorded average ever for those three months, according to Angel's research. But it also included one day when the temperature dipped to zero degrees, something that hasn't happened so far this year.

This winter is a far cry from the snow-pocalyptic expectations many weather experts suggested heading into the season.

"I'd like to say this didn't surprise me, but it certainly did," Angel admitted.

Forecasts called for heavy snowfalls -- even more than last year, when snow totals were aided by a Feb. 2 blizzard that dumped 20-plus inches of snow on the suburbs.

The Pacific Ocean is to thank, or blame if you're a snowplow driver. The ocean never cooled to levels that were anticipated, which would have created atmospheric pressure to push cold air from the north down to the Midwest.

Boston expects the lack of snowfall will translate to a warmer spring and summer.

"Even if we get a good couple soaking rainstorms, the sun will work more efficiently to dry out the area since there's no snow on the ground," he said. "Unless the weather pattern gets very weird."

Angel disagrees. He believes the mild winter will have no bearing on the Chicago area's spring and summer weather.

Because rainfall this winter has been average, the ground has had enough precipitation and there are no drought concerns, Angel explained.

"There's a lot of disconnect between winter and summer weather in Illinois," he said. "Weather in Illinois has a really short-term memory."

Whether we have a warmer spring or not, at least this time, someone's going to be right about the weather.

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