Enjoying Winter in Madison

Madison is beautiful in the wintertime, and if you are well prepared for it, you can really enjoy the season. Please read on for advice and information to help you adapt and maximize your winter weather experience.

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Weather in Madison

Madison is located in a temperate climate zone and has four distinct seasons—spring, summer, fall and winter. During the warmest months of June, July and August, high temperatures average 27 Celsius (80 Fahrenheit).

Winters are very cold with snowfall. In the middle of winter, high temperatures average negative 4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) though temperatures can fall below negative 18 Celsius (0 Fahrenheit). Average annual snowfall is 112 cm (44 inches). You can find historical daily temperatures for Madison here: https://www.aos.wisc.edu/climate/

Will UW-Madison close for inclement weather? The Chancellor is responsible for determining if, for the safety and welfare of students and staff, classes will be postponed. Some services, such as UW Hospital and Clinic, University Housing, University Police and power plant operations remain open regardless of weather conditions. This occurs very rarely. Announcements will appear on the UW-Madison website and in local news outlets as needed. Source: Knowledge Base

Check these two commonly used websites for weather forecasts and information:

National Weather Service: www.weather.gov

The Weather Channel: www.weather.com

Dressing smart for winter

People showing examples of winter clothing
Here are some examples of how to dress for cold winter weather.

Dressing for cold winter weather requires some different approaches that what you might be accustomed to. Please read on for advice on how to dress appropriately for the season!

  • A good quality coat and pair of boots are necessary. Check on this link for our advice on how to choose quality winter clothing, and some shopping options: http://go.wisc.edu/po1000
  • Wear layers of clothing. Layers of clothing provide warm air insulation between the layers, and you can take off top layers if you get too hot. Check out University Health Services’ helpful article: The magic of layers.
  • Protect your extremities. Wear a hat, gloves/mittens, and a scarf. These are essentials for your cold weather toolkit!

Staying healthy in wintertime

Adopt these techniques and habits to increase your chances for staying healthy this winter:

  • Stay hydrated. Your skin will dry out more than normal during winter thanks to the dry, cold air. Drink plenty of water, apply lotion, and use lip balm as needed.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy meals will help boost your energy, your immune system, and your mood.
  • Get exercise. Bundle up and spend time outside! Or if it is very cold, check out indoor sports activities through Rec Sports. Exercise is a great way to boost your immune system and stay mentally healthy during winter.
  • Embrace the cold. Living in Wisconsin means that you will have to deal with cold winter weather. This may be a big adjustment for students who are from warmer climates. We encourage you to try new activities and step out of your comfort zone. You may discover a passion for winter sport, or a preference for the cold!
  • Seek out additional resources as needed. Some people experience negative side effects from the longer hours in darkness and the colder weather during winter. If you notice that the weather is affecting your daily life in a negative way, please connect with University Health Services for Mental Health resources.
  • Check out this article from University Health Services: How Badgers beat the winter blues

Winter weather vocabulary

Here is a non-exhaustive list of weather terms that may come in handy during winter:

  • Snow flurries: Light snow with little to no accumulation
  • Wind chill: The wind makes the temperature outside feel colder on your skin than the air temperature actually is. Wind chills can be dangerous and increase the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. For more information, see the National Weather Service.
  • Black ice: This is thin ice that can lead to dangerous driving and walking conditions (source: The Weather Channel)
  • Frostbite: An injury caused by freezing body tissue (source: National Weather Service)
  • Hypothermia: Abnormally low body temperature that can result in death. Medical attention is needed immediately. (source: National Weather Service)
  • Sleet: Frozen precipitation that falls as ice pellets
  • Freezing rain: Precipitation that comes down as rain and then freezes when it hits the ground
  • Slush: Partially melted snow and ice, accumulating on sidewalks and roadways
  • Hail: Large ice precipitation, more common in late winter or early spring
  • Blizzard: A snowstorm with heavy winds that make travel dangerous to impossible.
  • Thundersnow: A snowstorm that produces lightning and thunder. This is a rare event.
  • Please see the National Weather Service for more information: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/snow.shtml

Outdoor winter activities

Here are some outdoor winter activities, including a non-exhaustive list of locations nearby where you can enjoy:

  • Hoofers is the largest student organization at UW-Madison and offers a variety of outdoor activities
  • Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
  • Building a snowman: this Smithsonian article shares the science behind the perfect snow for the job.
  • Making a snow angel
  • Ice-skating
    • On-campus ice rink schedule, rentals, and classes at the Shell
    • Ice skating lessons through the City of Madison Parks Division
  • Ice fishing
    • The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can help you get started ice fishing
    • Be careful on the ice! Get insight from local resources before attempting to walk on any frozen bodies of water. Learn about ice safety.
  • Downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing
  • Madison Winter Festival is usually held in early February
  • Bascom Hill snowball fight

Staying safe during winter travel

Staying safe during winter means wearing the right clothing and adapting how you get around. Please read on for tips on how manage safe winter travel:

  • If you are on foot, allow for extra time to walk to your destination if sidewalks are slippery or not cleared of snow and ice. When crossing roads, provide yourself extra distance from vehicles as drivers may not see you and cannot brake quickly under hazardous road conditions.
  • Check bus schedules before going outside and waiting for your bus. Sign up for travel alerts from Madison Metro Transit for bus delays due to inclement weather or city events.
  • Check out the National Weather Service’s Cold Weather Safety web page for some great advice to help you prepare for the cold.
  • Tips for Winter Biking: Watch this video to learn what gear you need to stay safe and visible for biking on the ice and snow.
  • Driving in winter: see section below

Winter driving in Wisconsin

The following section is excerpted from the Motorist’s Handbook from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation October 2016 edition, page 40.  
Each year about 30 snowstorms drop about 50 inches of snow in Wisconsin. Winter driving calls for special techniques.

Winter Driving Safety Tips
  • First is worst. In the first storm of the season, most drivers have forgotten their safe winter driving skills. They’ll drive too fast and try to stop too quickly.  Go slowly. Increase following distances. Drive defensively. Relearn your skills.
  • Go slowly. Drive well below the posted speed limit. Posted limits are intended for summer months on dry pavement. Avoid sudden, sharp turns. Use light braking by gently pumping the brakes.
  • Plan ahead. Plan on trips taking extra time. Leave earlier. Consider an alternate route. STAY HOME if conditions are too bad.
  • Use your head, use your feet. Never use cruise control on slippery roads.
  • Lighten up. Turn on your headlights. To prevent glare, avoid using your high beams during a night storm.
  • Wear your seat belts.
  • Give snowplows room. Snowplows are wide. They often need to operate very close to the center line. Sometimes they throw up clouds of snow, which affects your vision. Slow down and give them as much room as possible. On roads with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or more, the law requires drivers to stay at least 200 feet behind a snowplow when its red or amber lights are on.

Vehicle Supplies for Winter

Winter Safety Kit for car