As I bundled up today and tried to survive this Snowmageddon/polar vortex of 2014 and I shoveled and snow blowed for HOURS... I began reflecting on the below zero weather we have had and how much I love negative numbers. But, I do not love negative numbers enough to love negative temperatures. I have lived in the Midwest - specifically the Chicagoland area - my WHOLE life. After 30 years and some traveling under my belt, I have come to the realization that Midwestern Chicagoans are some tough cookies. We sweat through 100+ F weather. We bundle up and bear below 0 temps. Whether it is 100 degree Fahrenheit or -10 degrees Fahrenheit, I know people that walk to work. I know that neither the cold temps or inches of now stop me; I continue to run and play outside. As I reflected on how TOUGH we Midwesterners are… I also began to reflect on some of my family's comments. Some of my family this past weekend claimed that this winter "is not that bad," that it has "hardly snowed," and that the snow this winter is, in fact, not as abundant as past winters, especially those epic winters from the 1970s. With my frozen body today and my mathematical curiosity, I wondered about how statistically significant this winter really is.
Let's Make this Snowmageddon Mathtastic!
Here is a good website of record snowfalls from 1884 until the present. I thought that this was great set of records and that I could easily answer my question of how statistically significant this snowmageddons is. As I opened the website, I thought all that I would need to do is put this data into a spread sheet and perhaps calculate the mean, the standard deviation, and then the z-score for this year in comparison to my population's mean and standard deviation. However, the majority of our snow has been happening this January and February 2014, which are not listed on this website and are not quite 2/12 or 1/6 of a year. I thought this would be a great activity/discussion if I still taught AP Stats... and I then started searching some of the records for just the months of January and February and I found this. January 2014 is the 3rd worst for snowfall in Chicago since we have been recording snow. Sure, it's not the worst, but definitely a once in a lifetime (or twice in a lifetime if you are old enough) kind of winter when you consider that the snow records go back to 1884. And, January 2014 is also the 10th worst winter temperature-wise since 1872.
And, for my family and friends that said, "This winter is not that bad. It has hardly snowed. You should have seen that winter from 70s." Statistically speaking, the results aren't in yet for snow accumulation/temperatures so we will have to wait. The singular snow falls in the 1970s do seem larger at this point; however, I can definitely say that we have had a bitter cold taste of what that winter was like and this winter will most definitely be at least statistically significant and record-making.
This is my favorite article that describes the horrible winter from the 70s and Chicago weather in general. This is also the most math-tas-tic snowmageddon article that I could find!
I have to admit Disney's release of the movie, Frozen, seems to have impeccable timing. Although I love this movie and it is one of my favorite movies, I am really ready for winter to be over at this point!