Is this the worst winter we've ever had?
Not even close, if you go by temperature or snowfall.
But yes, it's pretty bad -- especially if you weren't around here for the winter of 1978-79 (official snow total: 89.7 inches) or Christmas 1983, when we had 98 straight hours of below-zero temperatures.
That dwarfs our most recent 30-hour subzero snap that ended at noon Tuesday, said Charles Mott, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Romeoville office.
Another subzero spell of 37 hours earlier this month fell just short of making the top-10 list for Chicago, according to the weather service.
But maybe we feel this winter's the worst because of how much snow has fallen this month. It's been the third-snowiest January since record-keeping began in 1872, and it was the fourth-snowiest month ever, with more snow than even in 1979. We've received 33.1 inches this month; normally, the area gets about 9.3, according to Mott. The record is 42.5, set in 1918.
Or maybe this winter's the worst because we've faced the most below-zero days we have had in a January since 1993-94.
Or because we've had to shovel more often. The weather service has recorded 48.2 inches of snow for the season; the average amount to date is 19 inches, Mott said. We've had precipitation, mostly snow, on average, every other day since Dec. 1.
Those charged with removing snow said this winter will stay with them for a while.
Libertyville Public Works Director John Heinz has been in the business for 30 years, He recalled several memorable winter events, including the Blizzard of 2011 for its sheer one-day ferocity.
But this season has been different. It hasn't been the volume as much as the frequency of snowfalls and cold snaps that have had his crews going nearly nonstop since Dec. 8.
"This is extremely unique as far as weather patterns and anything I've faced in 30 years," he said.
Heinz joked that if it is an even-numbered day, it's expected to snow in Libertyville.
"Even if it didn't snow again until the end of the year, we'll remember it because it's been extreme," he said. "No question. I don't think there will be too many of us who will forget this one."
Brett Wing, crew leader for the Batavia streets division, agreed.
The 2011 blizzard "was in and out and gone," he said. This year, snow storms are "just lingering, lingering, lingering" in 12- to 14-hour durations. "It just hangs on."
Wing noted that Batavia has called out workers 31 times since Dec. 8 to plow snow and salt streets.
Especially notable was the day a few weeks ago when temperature rose to the 40s, and then it rained, and then the temperature dropped and the water on the pavement froze, got salted, melted and froze again. "I fought 16 hours of that," he said. Workers have racked up 649 hours of overtime and 1,056 hours of double-time so far.
Wing, 42, has worked for Batavia for 21 years. His crew includes 14 drivers and two mechanics. "The guys are really tired," he said. "It's been a long, long month."
Wheaton City Manager Don Rose said the city's snow removal crews have been used 31 times this season; they were called out six times last year.
"It certainly, in recent history, is the worst winter," he said, adding that it's a challenge for "everyone in the municipal arena."
Rose said in addition to snow removal, crews have had to fill numerous potholes throughout the city and repair a few water main breaks. That, of course, has resulted in crews working extra hours.
But Rose said while this winter may seem extreme compared to the relatively mild winters of recent years, the cold and snowy weather is to be expected, along with the action municipalities have to take to combat it.
"I don't think it's terribly unusual," he said. "It does happen."
Daily Herald staff writers Mick Zawislak and Jessica Cilella contributed to this report.