It was Dec. 3, 1990, the first winter Gary Cannalte had experienced as a meteorologist in Madison at WISC-TV.
Madison welcomed him with the worst snowstorm in the city's history—17.3 inches of snow, wind gusts of 64 miles, lightning, thunder and snow coming down at 1 to 2 inches an hour.
Twenty-six years later, Cannalte rattles off the stats like a grizzled veteran.
"You don't forget a storm like that," he says.
Cannalte has had a front-row seat to Madison winters for nearly the last three decades, giving us weather simpletons the rundown on how to prepare for fickle Mother Nature. Viewers turn to Cannalte for the answers to so many questions, the most common one being: Will this winter be mild or harsh?
"Usually, that's the last thing we can answer," he says. Cannalte doesn't put very much stock in long-term outlooks. He says the Old Farmer's Almanac is great—for predicting meteor showers. In terms of forecasting any given year's winter outlook, "If [the Old] Farmer's Almanac was as accurate as they say they are, I'd be happy to use them and give them full credit for the forecast," Cannalte says, but that's just not the case.
The National Weather Service's climate prediction center puts out long-term outlooks that take into account factors that might influence the overall weather patterns. "But it's not going to tell you that we're going to have a white Christmas this year, it's not going to tell you we'll have three snowstorms this year," he says. "Those things really can't be decided until maybe a week out."
Cannalte has his ideal winter outlook to offer, though. "I'd like to see a winter that has a fair amount of snow that falls at times that don't really affect travel. I'd like to have a white Christmas, snow on the ground in January and February but have it melt in March. I'd also like to have it snow on the grass and not on the roads."
Tough bill to fill.
"As long as it's not a brutally cold winter or back-breaking snow-shoveling winter, it doesn't make much difference to me. All winters are different and have things we'll look back on and remember," he says. "Or try to forget."