Record-breaking warm winter leaves Merrill facing lack of precipitation

Shattering temperature records, lower heating bills, early spring flowers, and lack of snow make this a season to remember

Early spring crocus were already blooming in Merrill in early March. Tina L. Scott photo.


Clearly, the winter of 2023-2024 has been the craziest winter season I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. A Christmas without snow in Merrill is something I can’t ever recall before Dec. 25, 2023; and a serious lack of snow for the entire season and a lack of precipitation in general, along with warmer weather than I’ve ever seen in these last months, prompted me to reach out to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Green Bay to see just how Merrill’s winter of 2023-2024 compared to previous winters and an “average” winter in Lincoln County, Wis. I also inquired about overall Wisconsin state records and firsts.
Roy Eckberg of the NWS reported using the Merrill weather observers as the reporting site for Lincoln County, and the reporting is as of last week Wednesday, March 6, 2024, the date of his response.

Record-breaking warm temps in Merrill

Merrill experienced record-breaking warm temperatures throughout the 2023-2024 winter season, both overall and on a significant number of individual dates. Consider the following statistics Eckberg provided:

  • For the meteorological winter (Dec. 2023-Feb. 2024), Merrill recorded the warmest winter on record, averaging at 26.4°F, which is 10.5 degrees above normal. The previous record was set during the winter of 1997-1998 when that winter averaged 24.4°F. This breaks the old record set 26 years ago “by an astounding 2 degrees” which is a significant meteorological event when considering that isn’t just for a single date but rather the entire 3-month winter season.
  • Dec. 25, 2023 – It was the warmest Christmas Day on record in Merrill with a record high temperature of 49°F and a record high minimum/low temperature of 40°F.
  • December ended up as the warmest December on record with an average temp of 30.4°F (11.2° above normal), breaking the old record of 30.0°F set 8 years ago in December 2015.
  • On Feb. 27, 2024, Merrill recorded the warmest February temperature on record, hitting a high temperature of 65°F. That shattered the previous 94-year-old record for the highest temperature on record in Merrill in February, which was 60°F set on Feb. 20, 1930.
  • That Feb. 27, 2024, temperature of 65°F in Merrill is also the highest temperature on record during the meteorological winter period (Dec.-Feb.). The previous record was set more than 114 years ago when the previous record-high temperature for the meteorological winter period from Dec. to Feb. was set on Dec. 1, 1909, when the high temperature in Merrill hit 62°F. [Of note, the all-time state record high for February was set on Feb. 27, 2024, in Kenosha with a high temp of 77°F.]
  • By the next morning, on Feb. 28, 2024, the temperature in Merrill had plummeted from 65°F to 7°F, a drop of 58 degrees. Some areas awoke to light snow on the ground. And wind chill readings ranged from the single digits to -10°F.
  • There were a record-breaking 31 days during the meteorological winter (Dec. 2023-Feb. 2024) with high temperatures at or above 32°F. The old record was 19 days which was set 80 years ago during the winter of Dec. 1943-Jan. 1944 and then matched 22 years ago during the winter of Dec. 2001-Jan. 2002.
  • There were a record-breaking 9 days during the meteorological winter (Dec. 2023-Feb. 2024) with high temperatures at or above 50°F. The old record was seven days set 25 years ago during the winter of Dec. 1998-Jan. 1999.
  • Dec. 2023-Jan. 2024 set a record for the fewest heating degrees on record at 3,495, breaking the old record of 3,574 during the winter of Dec. 1997-Jan. 1998.

Near record high temps in Merrill

  • In Jan. 2024, there was only one true arctic outbreak from Jan. 14-21 where there were a total of eight days where the temperature fell below zero in Merrill. This was the second fewest days of below-zero temperatures during the winter, just short of the winter of 2001-02 when there were seven days below zero.
  • January ended up as the eighth warmest January on record, with an average temperature of 20.1°F (7.4 degrees above normal).
  • February ended up as the second warmest February on record, with an average temperature of 28.6°F (12.8 degrees above normal), just short of the Feb. 1998 record for an average temperature of 29.9°F.

Serious lack of precipitation

  • In Merrill, the average snowfall for the 29-year-timeframe of 1991-2020 was 53.2 inches.
  • So far this winter (Dec. 2023 through Mar. 6, 2024), Merrill has recorded only 18.6 inches of snow. That’s 34.6 inches of snow less than the average year.
  • The average precipitation for Merrill during this timeframe is 2.48 inches.
  • So far this winter, Merrill has received 1.41 inches of precipitation. That’s 1.07 inches less than the average year, or about 57% of the average.
  • NOTE: The ratio to convert snowfall into liquid precipitation varies significantly based on the temperature during a snowfall, the amount of ice crystals in the snow-producing cloud, wind, and many other factors. According to the NWS in LaCrosse, for the Upper Midwest, a 12:1 ratio is somewhat representative (on average); however, “there are so many variables that can affect the ratio of liquid water to snow that using a rule of thumb is usually off the mark. In fact, the snow ratios can change dramatically within a snow event itself.”
  • Merrill – and the entire state of Wisconsin – has experienced one of the least snowy and the driest winters on record.

Notable crazy weather-related happenings across the state

  • On Feb. 8, 2024, several tornados, the first-ever recorded tornadoes in February, were reported in Wisconsin.
  • In February, a toad was spotted near the NWS office in Green Bay.
  • At Eckberg’s home in Green Bay, a spider moved across his outdoor ring camera in the month of February
  • Butterflies were being reported spotted in southern Wisconsin (not sure if this occurred in February or March).
  • There was early-season break up on the ice on Lake Winnebago and the Bay of Green Bay.
  • There are reports of tulips already sprouting in northeast Wisconsin.
  • Indeed, we have purple crocuses blooming outside our backdoor where they have been in bloom for nearly a week as I type this.

Closing notes

While the record-breaking temperatures and fewer heating degrees may have saved Merrill and Wisconsin residents money on their heating bills and made for a lot less snow shoveling, the trade-off for less stressful winter driving and the kids getting to play outdoors on the playground a good two months earlier than normal remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, we’re going to need more spring showers soon to counteract the lack of precipitation, especially on the heels of the drought declared in our area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture back in Sept. 2023 for the period beginning in July 2023 which continues.
With the way this winter season has gone, you just might want to clip this article (or entire page with the date on it) and save it in your archives, because it might be one of those “I remember when …” years you tell your children and grandchildren about.

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