Measuring the Chill with a Winter Misery Index

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A woman on snowshoes makes her way along The Mall in Washington during a winter snowstorm that buried the city under what could be record-breaking snowfall, February 6, 2010. (CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty)

How miserable has your winter been? The worst winter ever? One of the worst winters ever? The worst winter since that one winter when you were a kid?

If you’re a Minnesotan, there’s no need to be so imprecise. For the last several decades, Pete Boulay, Assistant State Climatologist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, has been measuring just how miserable winters are with his Winter Misery Index. 

The index scores each winter on how cold it is, how much it snows, and how long snow stays on the ground to come up with an exact measure of just how much misery the winter has inflicted. 

Boulay says he assigns points for cold and snow depending on how cold and snowy it actually is. He adds that 2014 has been a particularly bad year.

"We're in the severe category of winters," he says. "Every time it gets at or below zero I assign a point. If you get one inch or greater of snow, that gets a point, and then I give bonus points for extreme cold or extreme snowing. This winter we've had both, and we're really getting pretty high points in the scale so far."

Boulay says that is hard to quantify things like freezing rain, but he says a true "misery winter" is one that has persistence. 

"I have a point system for 12 inches or snow on the ground or more," says Boulay. "Everyday that happens you get a point—so far this winter here in the Twin Cities, we've had 34 days of at least a foot of snow on the ground or more."

He adds that 177 points have been racked up by the Twin Cities this winter—a ways to go to break the record of 375.

"It's something I've always been interested in—are the winters when you were young worse than they are now?" asked Boulay. "This index is more or less for fun to try and get a handle on how severe a winter is and how much misery you feel during a winter."

Click here to see the Winter Misery Index. 

Guests:

Pete Boulay

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [1]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Winter Misery Index should be measured by sales of alcohol.

Feb. 26 2014 12:43 PM

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