Looking back on a warm winter

    As we begin the first week of Spring Quarter, we're probably all too glad to put any memory of Winter Quarter behind us. But before we head out to bask in the warmth of Evanston’s balmy 40 degree days, we have to ask ourselves: was the past winter really all that bad? Sure, the temperature may not have ever reached a point where we experienced the oxymoron of "being happy in winter," but thanks to El Niño and the effects of global warming, this winter was one of the warmest on record at Northwestern.

    The graphic below displays lows, highs and averages collected in Evanston between 1995 and 2015. You can hover over any day to compare these statistics with the lows and highs of the 2015-16 winter – and, just for fun, you can compare Northwestern’s weather with what you might have experienced had you attended New York University or the University of California, Los Angeles:

    At first glance, it can be hard to draw any conclusions from this graph. There are certain periods where the temperature elevates above the average, but there are also periods where it dips below the average. Doesn’t this end up cancelling each other out? Well, no, for two reasons:

    1. There were many more record-breaking highs than there were lows. In the chart, the below average temperatures for the past winter stayed safely within the 20-year average highs and lows, which wasn’t the case for above average temperatures. For instance, hovering over December 11, the lowest temperature broke the 20-year average high by nearly ten degrees.
    2. The majority of temperatures were higher, rather than lower, than the average. Scanning from left to right on the chart, bars crossing above the 20-year average appeared much more frequently than below it.

    In addition to higher temperatures, we seemed to have experienced notably smaller periods of snowfall as well: Evanston reportedly saved $50,000 in plowing costs last quarter. However, although our 25.8 inches of cumulative snowfall as of Feb. 28 was less than half of what we received in 2013-2014, it seems to be on track to match the average historical snowfall of 37.6 inches. You can compare this year’s snowfall with previous years below:

    And so, despite Donald Trump's belief that global warming is a concept that has been manufactured by the Chinese, we can probably say that we've felt its effects during our Northwestern winters.


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