In Case You Were Wondering…if this current snow drought that we are in sets a record for longest period between snow events of 1” or more, read on.
Chicago’s official snowfall records began with the winter of 1884-85. Over these 134 years, Chicago’s longest spell without a snowfall of at least 1 inch occurred twice: 64 days from Dec. 3-Feb. 4, 1905-06, and Dec. 23-Feb. 24, 1953-54. On Dec. 17, Chicago recorded 1.7 inches of snow, the city’s most recent snowfall of at least 1 inch. As of Feb. 16, that would be 61 days ago. Our streak must persist for at least one more week to have a chance at setting the record.
Lest you think that my interest in snow seems self-serving (after all I am one of the managers of the best snow removal company in Illinois), there are important benefits from regular winter snowfall that we all share.
The most obvious is the moisture. The following equation varies based on the density of the snow which is determined by the temperature, but generally, every ten inches of snowfall melts into the equivalent of one inch of rain. Chicago has received, on average, about 36” of snow annually over the last three decades, which translates into 3.6 inches of equivalent rainfall or about 10% of our annual rainfall total. Granted, much of our snow melts and runs off in the spring, but the snow cover prevents evaporation during the winter, conserving soil moisture. Plus not all the snow melt runs off, further adding to soil moisture for the upcoming growing season.
Another major benefit of a good snow cover is that snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs. The insulation effect of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and other shallow rooted plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.
And, lastly, snow is aesthetically pleasing. A snow-less winter in Chicagoland is drab, dreary, and gray. Snow brightens everything, bringing out the colors and textures of evergreens, ornamental grasses, and tree and shrub bark. Snow cover just makes a Chicago winter more complete.