A (b)log of learning through the science of nature

"There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear." 


I've heard this phrase at least once every winter I've lived here. In fact, I've only ever heard this phrase while living in Wisconsin, so while people in other regions may say it, I consider it a "Wisconsin" saying. Maybe that's because, especially when winter comes around, Wisconsinites need to be prepared!


Just like clothing and gear technology has grown leaps and bounds, resources to help us plan for winter weather have also grown leaps and bounds.  One resource that I find very useful is the National Weather Service's (NWS) 'Probabilistic Snowfall Experiment.'  The 'experiment' part comes from the fact that this forecast tool is relatively new, and basically combines multiple models (upwards of 50) for a snow event to give people an idea of the upper and lower levels of snow to expect from any storm, plus some additional information. 77 NWS offices provide probabilistic snowfall forecasts around the country, and you can learn more about those offices here:


This past Christmas, my family and I had travel plans across the state just in time for Winter Storm Elliot (you know, the one with the windchills in the -30s and the 50mph winds). Many of the figures and screenshots referenced here are centered around Elliot and were used while I was trying to figure out my family's travel plans to Milwaukee. However, these tools can be used at any point in the winter, and are available all across the state of Wisconsin! I use this tool in a variety of ways:



When you visit the site, you will see a main screen with a few maps and some tabs of different forecasts (in blue at the top). Remember, all of my planning was for Milwaukee, so that's the office I chose, and that's whose forecasts you'll see. Because Milwaukee is a bigger NWS office, they have slightly more tabs available for you to view than Green Bay (but Green Bay's forecasting tools are still super useful!). The default tab that will open up will be any special winter weather messages—if the weather is calm, you won't see this. If there is a major storm forecast, you'll see any specific forecast information in both map and text forecast format. It'll tell you if there is an advisory, watch, or warning in your area, and for how long. Maps off to the side will also give you snowfall estimates based on all of the information from the models.


The tab that I use most of all (and is the default if there are no weather alerts) is the "Probabilistic Snowfall Forecasts" tab. When you click this tab, you'll see 3 maps. The largest map displayed will show the overall snowfall forecast (and you can select 'point' if you want to see only one figure forecast, or a range if you want to see a range of inches). Off to the right side, you'll see two smaller maps (which you can click to enlarge) that show you the snowfall forecast on either extreme. 


This is what the high end looked like when I checked in December:


This is what the low end amount looked like when I checked in December:


Based on these, I knew to expect at least 3 inches of snow where I was traveling (West Bend area), and that there was the potential that there could be 9 inches, but it would probably snow less than that. That still gives a 6" range, which can be a lot, so you can also scroll to the bottom of the page and it will tell you the probability of having snowfall greater than a set amount:


By using this tool, I could see both that there was only a 47% chance that West Bend would see more than 6 inches of snow, and that the expected snowfall was about 5 inches. 


If you're traveling, there are a couple of other tools you can use as well- the Winter Storm Outlook and Winter Storm Severity Index provide criteria (if roads will be passable or closed etc.) as to what impacts the weather may have, along with a map that you can zoom in and out to see impacts in a particular region.  From the main Snowfall probability experiment homepage, just click on the tab that says 'Winter Storm Outlook and Winter Severity Index' and you'll be taken to a page that looks like this:


The default image is for the overall duration of the storm (where you see 'Days 1-3'), but there are tabs on top of the map that you can click to see impacts on specific days to see if your particular day of travel is impacted. 


By using this tool, I definitely felt as informed as possible in regards to making smart and safe plans in consideration of the weather.  Also, if you're like me and either a map or weather geek (or both!) sometimes it's just interesting to see when, where, and how much the snow is going to fall for a particular region.  When you see the next snow system reach your area, check it out and try it! Links to Wisconsin regional snowfall experiments are below.  Not from Wisconsin? Scroll up to the last sentence in the first paragraph to navigate to your local office!


To access the snowfall experiment from the Milwaukee Office (applies to SE WI), visit


To access the snowfall experiment from the Green Bay Office (applies to NE WI), visit


To access the snowfall experiment from the Duluth Office (applies to NW WI), visit


To access the snowfall experiment from the LaCrosse Office (applies to SW WI), visit


Author Kim Feller is the Trees For Tomorrow Education Manager