Boustead uses daily high and low temperatures and daily and accumulated snowfall to come up with a winter index that’s equivalent to the way meteorologists categorize hurricanes and tornadoes. Officially, it is called the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index.
“I personally would call this a misery index,” said Boustead.
But to co-creator Steve Hilberg, the index measures “awesomeness.”
“I embrace winter rather than hating it,” said Hilberg, a meteorologist who works at the Midwest Regional Climate Center in Champaign, Ill.
New York, Milwaukee and Duluth are in the midst of their fourth harshest winters. Also having top-10 harshest winters are Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota; Louisville, Ky.; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and Cheyenne, Wyo.
The idea is to put winter in context. This winter seems unusually harsh because it has been a while since the late 1970s and early 1980s when severe winters were far more frequent. People have short memories.
Plus, for almost three-quarters of the places studied the winter of 2011-2012 was the mildest on record, Boustead said.
But why Detroit?
Just bad geography and luck. Much of the cold and snow this winter is because of a change in the jet stream that has funneled frigid air south from the Arctic “right down the alley” through Detroit, Hilberg said.
The winter index keeps going, until the cold, snowy weather stops. And that’s at least a couple weeks away, according to forecasts.
“We’re going to push that index a little bit higher,” Boustead said. “Let’s see how much higher we can go.”