The latest iteration of FiveThirtyEight, baseball and politics geek Nate Silver’s quantitative journalism site, launched yesterday. And, in an article by Matt Lanza on this winter, there was a chart that showed this is the snowiest five-year average in recorded Philadelphia history.
Ugh. Let’s post the chart again, so we can be shaken by it.
Lanza didn't point this out in the article, but what makes this chart amazing — and this winter so terrible, with 15 days below 15 degrees in Philadelphia – is how nice the previous two winters had been. When this cold weather started in December, I was angry at my friends for complaining. "It's been cold for, like, a month over the past two years!" I'd say to no one in particular when we were at the bar or someone's house. "You're not allowed to complain about winter being winter!"
Of course, things did get worse, and I soon stopped complaining about, erhm, people complaining. And by the time it's the dead of winter and I've been without enough sunlight for a few months, I'm pretty much a non-stop complaint machine myself.
But I think there is reason to be optimistic.
Look at the chart again. The bulk of this "five-year snowiest average" is two seasons — the first- and second-snowiest winters of all time. Before the 67 inches we've received so far this winter, we had virtually no snow at all! Just eight inches total in 2012-13, with four inches in 2011-12. Sure, we got 78 inches in 2009-10 and 44 inches in 2010-11, but there's no reason we can't have another dry winter next season! (Snowfall totals in this paragraph, except this year's, are from JcWeather, which collects data from a station in Port Richmond. They are likely different than "official" airport snowfall totals, but they're close enough for the purposes of this qualitative argument.)
That, in addition to the snow and the cold, has been the reason this winter has been so bad: The snowfall the past two winters, combined, has been dwarfed by this season's snowfall. We were literally no longer prepared to deal with the snow.
But next year, we will be. We have survived this cold, snowy winter, and we know we can do it next time if we need to. And we also have the examples of the winters of 2012-13 and 2011-12 to guide us: Maybe next winter we won't get any snow at all! Hey, it happened in 1972-73! (In honor of the 9-73 Sixers, no doubt!)
Obviously, this year's huge snowfall total doesn't mean next year's will be tiny, just like a coin flip coming up heads has no bearing on the next flip. But recent years show there is at least a chance we're not heading toward some protracted, Game of Thrones-type megawinter, a chance we could get a reprieve next season — we've never had back-to-back 60-inch winters before, for instance. It may be hard to remember after the winter we've just been through, but things haven't always been this bad.
Spring starts this week, but we are not out of it yet: It's cold today, it's supposed to be cold early next week, and with the way this year is going more snow would not surprise anyone. But I think we are close. But I won't blame you if you don't put your boots and shovel away quite yet.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.