Is there really a “State Tournament Snowstorm”?

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Is there really a “State Tournament Snowstorm”?
Rooftop snow
March in Madison, WI by sarae

A persistent anecdotal piece of weather lore around Madison is that the WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association) State Basketball Tournament is always accompanied by a snowstorm.

With the help of Dr. Edward Hopkins at the State Climatologist’s Office, we looked into this perception with cold, hard data.

Dr. Hopkins provided the daily snowfall totals for every March since 1950. We identified the days on which the Boy’s Tournament was played in Madison (we chose the Boy’s Tournament only because the record was longer). The results are very interesting.

It turns out that only 4 times in the last 60 years has the approximately 5 day-long tournament been free of snow – that is, only 6.7% of the time does NO snow at all fall during the duration of the tournament. Most of the remaining 56 “snowy” tournaments were characterized by days on which “trace” amounts fell (not enough to measure, but enough to say it snowed). A few had days on which 1 or 2″ fell.

The all-time record amount during the tournament was 12″ on March 18. 1971 (followed by 2.5″ the next day!). Only 7 tournaments (11.7%) had a single day on which more than 3″ of snow fell. Such conditions are roughly equivalent to those necessary for issuance of a snow advisory by the National Weather Service.

Thus, though snow is almost always in the air during tournament time (and that seems likely again this year despite the warmth of the preceding week), it appears that less than 1 in 8 tournaments have actually been accompanied by a snowstorm.

Steven A. Ackerman and Jonathan Martin are professors in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UW-Madison, are guests on the Larry Meiller‘s WHA-AM radio show the last Monday of each month at 11:45 a.m.