This December, Madison has had over fifteen inches of snow. Compared to the last couple of years when December saw less than three inches of snow, fifteen inches seems like quite a bit. History tells us, however, that our own short-term perceptions are often skewed.

The yearly average for December snowfall in Madison over the last one hundred-plus years is a shade over eleven inches. So, while we may perceive fifteen inches as quite a bit above normal, it actually isn’t that much higher than the historical average. Over the last ten years, Madison has seen far more Decembers with just a couple of inches of snow and just one or two that came close to the historical average. As such, Madison residents started to believe that a cold but snowless December is the normal state of affairs.

Compared to the Winter of 1875, Madison has gotten off relatively easy. During 1875, there were several snow drifts reported as high as 30’. In addition, there were fifteen to twenty foot snowbanks on the railroad tracks that served the city. Those snowbanks had to be shoveled out by hand with men working in teams to get the job done. The Wisconsin Historical Society has photos of men clearing the massive snow drifts from the railroad tracks.