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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Milwaukeeans often talk about how we always get a certain type of weather on certain holidays. Are these commonly held beliefs really true?
Milwaukeeans often talk about how we always get a certain type of weather on certain holidays. Are these commonly held beliefs really true?

Milwaukee holiday weather myths

With the Fourth of July holiday upon us and Memorial Day not too far in our rear view mirror, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of Milwaukee’s most common holiday weather myths. If you’ve lived in the Milwaukee area for any substantial amount of time, you’ve probably heard them:

  • It always snows on New Year’s Eve
  • It always rains on Memorial Day
  • It’s always hot on the Fourth of July.

Like many myths, they are based in at least some minor reality. But also like most myths, the certainty with which they are tossed around far exceeds that reality.

Let’s examine the reality, starting with the upcoming Fourth of July:

Fourth of July is always hot

This myth was reinforced just one year ago. But, before I get to the details of that, I would point out that the Fourth of July is in, well, July. And the average high temperature is in the low 80s. It would be big news if it wasn’t usually pretty warm on this holiday.

Still, just how often is it blistering, blazing hot? If your memory only goes back a year or so, you might think pretty often. On July 4, 2012 Milwaukee set its all-time record high for the date by reaching 102 degrees.

However, just a year before, in 2011, the high was an unremarkable 84. In 2010, Milwaukee soared to 91, but that came after years of 74 and 71 in 2009 and 2008, respectively. In fact, you have to go back to 2003 to find the next Independence Day in the 90s, when we hit 92.

Here are specifics over the last 10 years:

YEAR HIGH LOW PRECIP
2012 102 81 0.00
2011 84 61 0.00
2010 91 69 0.02
2009 74 60 0.00
2008 71 50 0.00
2007 84 67 0.00
2006 77 61 0.00
2005 76 67 0.12
2004 79 66 0.01
2003 92 69 0.04

A little math shows that over the past 10 years, the high temperature in Milwaukee on the Fourth of July has averaged a warm, but typical 84 degrees. (And that’s with a 102 in there from last year.)

Looking back over the past 142 years (the time frame in which accurate temperature records are available for Milwaukee), the high has been in the 70s more often (41 percent of the time) than any other of these ranges:

100 Degrees or Above...Under 1 Percent

90 To 99 Degrees......10 Percent

80 To 89 Degrees......30 Percent

70 To 79 Degrees......41 Percent

60 To 69 Degrees......18 Percent

50 To 59 Degrees.......Under 1 Percent

Verdict: It’s not always hot on the Fourth of July.

It always snows on New Year’s Eve

This myth is on life support. In fact, it’s mostly only still being perpetuated by people who are around my age or older. You see, this myth started when snowstorms hit Milwaukee on back-to-back years in the mid 1970s.

On Dec. 31, 1977 a snowstorm brought almost 8 inches to Milwaukee. Just one year later, on New Year’s Eve 1978, over a foot of snow fell across the area.

In more recent years, snow on New Year’s Eve has been virtually nil. In 2009, 0.1" fell in Milwaukee, and trace amounts were reported in 2008, 2007 and 2005. That’s it.

Here are specifics over the last 10 years:

YEAR HIGH LOW PRECIP SNOWFALL SNOW DEPTH

2012 33 14 0.00 0.0 2

2011 40 26 0.00 0.0 0

2010 54 46 0.01 0.0 0

2009 31 13 trace 0.1 1

2008 20 7 trace trace 1

2007 31 15 trace trace 6

2006 50 41 0.18 0.0 0

2005 38 32 trace trace trace

2004 53 27 0.00 0.0 0

2003 42 20 0.00 0.0 0

In fact, there has only been one New Year’s Eve (2007) in the past 10 years when there has even been more than 2 inches of snow on the ground. And how about the fact that high has been 50 degrees or above three times in the past 10 years? (Climate change anyone?)

Overall, measurable snow has been recorded on only 27 of the past 128 New Year’s Eves (the timeframe in which accurate snowfall records are available for Milwaukee). That’s 21 percent. And only 13 of those 27 snowfalls were of one inch or more (10 percent overall). Not very impressive.

Verdict: It doesn’t always snow on New Year’s Eve.

It always rains on Memorial Day

Of the three holiday myths we’re exploring here, this one is grounded in the most reality. But, should that surprise us? Memorial Day is in May. Which is in spring. Which is when we get rain frequently. So, should it really be surprising that it occasionally rains on Memorial Day?

About a month ago, on Memorial Day 2013, Milwaukee received 0.05" of rain. That made it two years in a row with 0.05" of rain on Memorial Day. In 2008, we picked up 0.06", in 2006 there was 0.13" and in 2004 there was 0.21".

Here are specifics over the last 10 years:

DATE HIGH LOW PRECIP

MAY 27 2013 54 49 0.05

MAY 28 2012 89 69 0.05

MAY 30 2011 88 50 0.00

MAY 31 2010 77 57 0.01

MAY 25 2009 61 48 trace

MAY 26 2008 81 41 0.06

MAY 28 2007 71 49 0.00

MAY 29 2006 89 70 0.13

MAY 30 2005 67 48 0.00

MAY 31 2004 66 53 0.21

So, over the past 10 years, there has been rain on six Memorial Days. Sixty percent. That stat doesn’t hold up though when looking back over the past 84 Memorial Days. Only 44 percent of Memorial Days have been rainy in Milwaukee.

The number of Memorial Days with precipitation...

Trace or greater.........44 percent

0.1" or greater....13 percent

0.5" or greater.....1 percent

1.0" or greater.....less than 1 percent

Still, at 44 percent we’re looking at odds in the neighborhood of a coin-flip. Definitely more risk that people would prefer on a day dominated by neighborhood parades, camping, and cookouts in backyards everywhere.

Verdict: It doesn’t always rain on Memorial Day, but it rains way more often than most would prefer.

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