Wisconsin has a humid continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold winters. While most of the state is of subtype warm-summer (Köppen climate classification Dfb) the southern part, falls under the hot-summer subtype (Köppen Dfa). Wisconsin shares borders with Iowa in the south, Illinois in the southwest, Minnesota in the west, Lake Superior in the north, Michigan in the northeast and Lake Michigan in the east. The proximity to the Great Lakes influences the climate of Wisconsin to a large extent.
Wisconsin, the Badger state, has a diverse geography that consists of Lake Superior lowlands, western uplands, northern highlands, central plains, and eastern lowlands near Lake Michigan. The topographical features include mixed hardwood and coniferous forests, farmlands, hills, glacial lakes and rivers. Marshy areas and fertile river valleys with temperate weather enhance the agriculture produce while rolling hills and clear lakes provide some of the best recreational activities. The state has vast shorelines with the Great Lakes and rivers such as the Mississippi, Saint Croix, Montreal, and Menominee.
Summer has comfortable temperatures in Wisconsin with the mercury column rarely touching 90°F (32.2°C). Even during the peak of July, only 2 to 4 days cross 90°F (32.2°C) in the north, while they average 14 days in the south. Winters are cold, snowy, and temperatures around -30°F (-34.4°C) are common in the northern counties - in fact, during the coldest month of January the mercury may plummet to -40°F (-40°C). Clouds cover the skies for a significant part of the year in many places. The north, west and central Wisconsin regions have a short growing season on account of a small freeze-free period compared to the eastern and southern regions that have the warm impact of Lake Michigan.
The northern highlands and western uplands receive snowfall up to 160" (4064mm), while the rest of the state averages 40" (1016mm). Snow stays on the ground for nearly 140 days during the year near Lake Superior, while the cover lasts for 65 days in the south. Rainfall averages 35" (889mm) in the state with the northwest significantly wetter than the south and east. Wisconsin experiences thunderstorms, tornadoes and is prone to flooding during late spring and early summer. April and May during the spring and June during the summer are usually the rainiest months in the state. Snowstorms are frequent, and fog is prevalent in many places during early morning during the winter.
Wisconsin Dells recorded the highest ever temperature of 114°F (45.6°C) on July 13, 1936, in Wisconsin, while Couderay recorded the coldest temperature of -55°F (-48.3°C) on February 2, 1996.
The best time to visit Wisconsin
The best time to visit Wisconsin is from May to October that envelops the warm days of spring, summer and autumn seasons. Early spring is cold and rainy, while late fall feels chilly. Summer tends to be hot and humid in the south but rarely crosses 90°F (32.2°C), while it is warm in the proximity of the Great Lake regions. The Great Lakes have their microclimates that feel cooler than the rest of Wisconsin and tends to bring pleasant temperatures during the summer. Late spring and early fall are mild with comfortable temperatures. Mid-autumn is attractive due to the beautiful fall foliage, the dispersal of the summer crowds and amicable temperatures.
The worst time to visit Wisconsin
Wisconsin has severely cold winters, while the summers tend to be hot and range from warm in the north to hot in the southern regions. The worst time to visit Wisconsin is the harsh winter season from December to February, particularly in the northern highlands and areas near Lake Superior, which see a large amount of snow that often crosses 100" (2540mm). Blizzards are common during the winter and affect day-to-day life and weather conditions. Additionally, the days are short in the cold months, the sunshine limits to a few hours daily, while the sun is on vacation for days together.
Wisconsin is vulnerable to intense thunderstorms, tornadoes and serious flooding in late spring and early summer. The storms push strong winds usually from west to east or more particularly from southwest to northeast. The spring temperatures contribute to the melting of snow and along with occasional heavy rains cause severe flooding in April. Thunderstorms also contribute to excessive rainfall in a short period that is sufficient to cause flash floods in river tributaries, small streams, and creeks. Snowstorms are common during the winter and accumulate a vast amount of snow deposits, especially in the Lake Superior snow belt.
Weather in January
January is the coldest month of the year in Wisconsin as it becomes exceedingly difficult to stay outdoors even for a few minutes. The temperatures are deathly cold, often dropping below -10°F (-23.3°C) and even plummeting to -30°F (-34.4°C) in the northern highlands. Wind chill screws the nails on the coffin further as the temperature feels colder than it registers on the scale. The average high temperatures are in the 20°F (-6.7°C) to 30°F (-1.1°C) range, while the average low temperatures are in the 0°F (-17.8°C) to 16°F (-8.9°C) range. January is the snowiest month of the year as the average accumulation is 15" (381mm) in the state. Black ice, slippery roads, and snow make driving a challenge - add to it the gloomy days without the sun in sight, and it is no wonder only a small group of snow lovers cherishes the winter. New Year is one of the coldest periods in Wisconsin that sees celebrations in the indoor warmth of homes and hotels.
Weather in February
February is a winter month in Wisconsin that is severely cold with heavy snowfall. The average high temperatures in the state are in the 26°F (-3.3°C) to 35°F (1.7°C) range, while the average low temperatures lie in the cold 3°F (-16.1°C) to 19°F (-7.2°C) zone. Madison, the state capital that lies in southwest Wisconsin, has average temperatures in the 15°F (-9.4°C) to 31°F (-0.6°C) in February compared to Rhinelander in the north between 4°F (-15.6°C) to 28°F (-2.2°C); Ashland near Lake Superior registers between 8°F (-13.3°C) to 27°F (-2.8°C). Snowfall is to the tune of an average of 10" (254mm) statewide, which is significantly less than that in the north and west. Sunshine lasts for an average 13 days in February and the gloomy days and dark skies do not bode well for outdoor activities. Mountain slopes are not famous for skiing as the state's highest point at Timms Hill is only 590 meters in altitude. Wrap up in warm winter clothes and caps that cover the ears lest the cold air will hurt them, even the nose and the lungs!
Weather in March
March starts the spring season in Wisconsin with warm days and cold nights with a bit of rain. Drizzles are common during the day but rarely last long or gather strength. The majority of the state sees rainfall to the tune of 1" (25.4mm) to 2" (50.8mm). The sun is still not at its zenith, and March sees an average of 14 days of sunshine. The average high temperatures are usually in the range of a mild 36°F (2.2°C) to 45°F (7.2°C), while the nights are below the freezing point between 14°F (-10°C) to 28°F (-2.2°C). Early spring is prone to snowstorms, cold fronts and chilly winds, especially in the northern highlands. Snowfall occurs statewide and averages 5" (127mm) to 7" (177.8mm). Spring in March brings green shoots in patches in many places, but fresh snow ensures that the ground is not entirely free of white color. The weather is wet and decisively on the cold side and not comfortable for outdoor activities.
Weather in April
April lies in the heart of the spring season as warm temperatures and wet conditions rule the roost. The average high temperatures are warm in the range of 47°F (8.3°C) to 60°F (15.6°C), and the average low temperatures are between 27°F (-2.8°C) to 38°F (3.3°C). Milwaukee in the east averages from 37°F (2.8°C) to 54°F (12.2°C), La Crosse in the southwest lies between 38°F (3.3°C) to 59°F (15°C), while Wausau in the north is between 33°F (0.6°C) to 55°F (12.8°C). Rainfall averages 3" (76.2mm) in most places, while fresh snow to the tune of 3" (76.2mm) adds to the mix. Late April sees the gradual change in weather with precipitation more in the form of rain than ice and snow. Cloudy skies are common in spring as the sun finds it difficult to switch to full intensity. The southern part of the state and the regions near Lake Michigan are a few degrees warmer than the northern and the western parts. Warm clothing is essential to protect from cold spells - April is a shoulder season for tourism as visitors trickle in Wisconsin.
Weather in May
May is the golden period of spring in Wisconsin with warm days and comfortable nights. The average daily temperatures are in the pleasant 60°F (15.6°C) to 70°F (21.1°C) range, while the nights are in the 38°F (3.3°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) zone. Rain picks up in intensity with 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) almost everywhere, but at the same time, the snow starts to melt away. May is prone to severe flooding in many parts with the thawing of the snow and the swelling of the water bodies due to the heavy rain. Cloudy skies intersperse between clear ones as the sun gathers strength. The hay fever season is at its peak as the pollen fills the air, but few people complain as Old Man Winter finally goes away for another year. The ground turns shades of green with a combination of brown, and the air becomes sweet with the fresh smell of blossoming of flowers. Spring witnesses many exciting activities like fishing and hunting - wild turkey shooting is a favorite pastime for hunters!
Weather in June
June is warm, humid, and wet as the sun gains strength with the beginning of the Wisconsin summer. The sunshine breaks the cloud cover for at least 18 days during the month. June is one of the rainiest months of the year with an average of 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm) of rain. Thunderstorms are frequent, and hail and lightning often accompany them. Tornadoes also sweep the state in summer and their average of 19 per year signifies regular trouble from them. The average temperatures are mostly in the range of 70°F (21.1°C) to 80°F (26.7°C) during the day, while the nights are comfortable between the 50°F (10°C) to 60°F (15.6°C) range. June can touch up to 90°F (32.2°C) in the south in the absence of rain but usually tends to stretch until 85°F (29.4°C) at some places. The weather is perfect for biking, fishing and swimming in the vast number of lakes and creeks as also for enjoying a large number of public and state parks. Be sure to pack raincoats, boots, and umbrellas to enjoy the summer!
Weather in July
July is usually the hottest month of the year month in Wisconsin as the summer attains peak temperatures. An average of 21 days during the month experience daily sunshine for 9 hours during the month. The average daily temperatures are in the 75°F (23.9°C) to 85°F (29.4°C) range statewide, while nights are comfortably warm in the 55°F (12.8°C) to 65°F (18.3°C) zone; temperatures may rise to 95°F (35°C) for a few days, but 100°F (37.8°C) is rare. The humidity in the range of 70% to 75% and pleasant water temperatures make swimming and water activities enjoyable. Green Bay in eastern Wisconsin averages 58°F (14.4°C) to 80°F (26.7°C), Wisconsin Dells in the southwest is between 57°F (13.9°C) and 83°F (28.3°C), while Eau Claire in the north is between 60°F (15.6°C) to 83°F (28.3°C) and Superior along Lake Superior Shore records 58°F (14.4°C) to 75°F (23.9°C). Camping and river rafting are favorite activities for tourists who gather in peak numbers in July. Sweatshirts and light clothing are suitable for the summer.
Weather in August
August is a hot summer month with plenty of rain in Wisconsin. The average temperatures in the state are in the range of 52°F (11.1°C) to 82°F (27.8°C) as the cloudy skies bring humidity to the overall weather conditions. Rainfall is to the tune of 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) as the heat lingers on during the long summer days. Thunderstorms are common in August, more in the southern regions compared to the northern ones. The growing season is at its peak all over the state as August offers abundant rain with a frost-free period - farmlands cover approximately 45% of the total land area. The smell of fresh produce is in the air as wild animals scourge the lands in search of food. Light summer clothing is the norm in August as a large number of tourists explore the lakeshores and enjoy boating in the calm waters. The temperate weather and the natural attractions of Wisconsin swell the tourist numbers.
Weather in September
September is one of the best times to visit Wisconsin with beautiful weather conditions. The average high temperatures hover in the 60°F (15.6°C) to 74°F (23.3°C) range, while the average low temperatures are in the warm 55°F (12.8°C) to 65°F (18.3°C) range. Peak summer temperatures hold no more in September but the days are long and bright with a drop in the amount of rain. Though cloudy days are in fair numbers, the overall weather gives a feeling of pleasantness as the autumn spreads its wings. Leaves start to turn color by mid-September, and the northern lands attain brilliant shades of orange, amber, yellow, red and golden by the end of the month. The bright conditions are perfect for hunting, fishing, and exploring the wilderness. Even in the peak tourist season, Wisconsin has plenty of space for everyone, and the fall feels much more spacious with the dispersal of the summer crowds. Keep an eye on the weather, as tornadoes are common in September!
Weather in October
October is the heart of the autumn of Wisconsin with brilliant colors and mild weather. Average high temperatures tend to be comfortable in the day in the 57°F (13.9°C) to 62°F (16.7°C), while the nights are cold with average low temperatures in the 32°F (0°C) to 45°F (7.2°C) range. October has an average of 16 bright days with the intensity of sun rays at nearly 60% of the peak. Mid-autumn is the period of peak fall foliage as even the hardwoods change colors by this time, and the landscape fills with brilliant shades in the backdrop of the beautiful hills. Appleton in the east averages between 40°F (4.4°C) to 57°F (13.9°C), Beloit in the southwest lies between 40°F (4.4°C) to 62°F (16.7°C), while Ashland near Lake Superior Shore is between 34°F (1.1°C) to 55°F (12.8°C). Fall afternoons are breezy, while evenings and night tend to be cold in most places. Mornings and middays, provide perfect weather to drive by the scenic roadways and walk or bike in the comfortable weather.
Weather in November
November brings the autumn season to an end as the cold takes over, signaling the onset of the winter. The fall foliage is past its peak by mid-November as the weather rapidly cools down. The average high temperatures are in the cold 37°F (2.8°C) to 46°F (7.8°C) range, while nights drop below freezing and register in the 21°F (-6.1°C) to 30°F (-1.1°C) range. Though the rainfall hardly crosses 2" (50.8mm), November sees the first snow in many regions, and averages 5" (127mm) - Drummond in northern Wisconsin registers 12.5" (317.5mm), while Bayfield near Lake Superior records 14.3" (363.2mm). The days become shorter and sunny days are far and few between cloudy ones. Evenings are windy and the nights are chilly in many parts of the state in the latter half of November. The growing season is over as snow starts to cover vast stretches of land. Overall, November ends the tourist season in Wisconsin, and very few brave hearts stay to endure the winter!
Weather in December
December begins the winter season in Wisconsin with dreary cold and lack of sunlight. The days are short with the sun missing for days altogether from the skies. The average high temperatures are in the 23°F (-5°C) to 34°F (1.1°C) range, while the average low temperatures are in the cold 6°F (-14.4°C) to 21°F (-6.1°C) range across the state. Temperatures below 0°F (-17.8°C) are highly regular as the cold sweeps, and the wind howls in the deserted lands. Northern highlands are the coldest with average low temperatures in Drummond at 7°F (-13.9°C) and Rest Lake at 6°F (-14.4°C). Light rain occurs periodically in the eastern and southern regions, while the areas near Lake Superior receive a negligible amount. Snowfall is in the range of 10" (254mm) to 12" (304.8mm) in the state, while Bayfield, near the Lake Superior Shore, receives a massive amount to the tune of 27" (685.8mm). December averages 12 sunshine days and that too at hardly 40% of the peak strength of the sun - certainly not the right weather to visit Wisconsin. [Resources]
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