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February 2013 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 03/05/13

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February 2013 Climate Summary  

For a printable version of the climate summary which includes more figures, data tables, and state summaries, click here

Temperature Summary

Average temperatures for February 2013 were generally on the cooler side for the High Plains Region. The only exceptions were the western halves of the Dakotas, southwest Wyoming, and central and eastern Nebraska. The largest above normal temperature departures occurred in western North Dakota and South Dakota where average temperatures ranged from 3.0-6.0 degrees F (1.7-3.3 degrees C) above normal. These temperature departures were not record breaking. Meanwhile, temperature departures of 3.0-6.0 degrees F (1.7-3.3 degrees C) below normal were common in central and western Colorado, central Wyoming, south-central Kansas, and the eastern sides of the Dakotas. Western Colorado had some of the larger departures in the Region with average temperatures of 6.0-10.0 degrees F (3.3-5.6 degrees C) below normal.

A few locations ranked in the top 5 coolest Februaries on record in parts of Colorado. Crested Butte, the popular ski destination, had its second coolest February on record with an average temperature of only 7.5 degrees F (-13.6 degrees C). Although this was 5.9 degrees F (3.3 degrees C) below normal, the 1974 record of 3.9 degrees F (-15.6 degrees C) firmly held (period of record 1910-2013).

Precipitation Summary

Precipitation was highly variable this month with many locations receiving above normal precipitation and others receiving little to none. Areas receiving at least 150 percent of normal precipitation generally included a swath running from central Colorado to the northeast through the eastern Dakotas, central and eastern Kansas, northern North Dakota, and central Wyoming. The precipitation had various impacts on the ongoing drought. For example, the snows in Kansas had ample moisture to put a dent in drought conditions, while the snows in Nebraska were drier and had little to no impact on the drought conditions there. Meanwhile, snowpack in the Rockies remained lower than average as Wyoming increased from last month to 84 percent of average and Colorado held at 75 percent of average.

Several systems passed through the Region this month. One storm on February 10-11 brought heavy snows to parts of the Dakotas with the highest totals topping out at about 20.0 inches (51 cm). This snowstorm closed parts of I-29 and I-90 as well as numerous schools and universities. Later in the month, two other major snowstorms hit the Region in just a matter of days. A large storm on February 20-21 spurred winter storm warnings across all of Kansas and the majority of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. Snowfall totals in Kansas and Nebraska generally ranged from 6.0-12.0 inches (15-30 cm), however, the highest amounts were found in north-central Kansas where snowfall amounts exceeded 20.0 inches (51 cm). In addition, snowfall rates close to 4.0 inches (10 cm) per hour and thundersnow were reported. Schools, universities, and businesses closed in both Kansas and Nebraska. The heavy snow caused travel to become nearly impossible as roads closed and flights were cancelled. A second snowstorm blasted southern parts of the Region just a week later (February 24-26) bringing heavy snow not only to Kansas, but also Oklahoma and Texas. Again, thundersnow was reported in addition to blizzard conditions and up to a foot (30 cm) of snowfall accumulations. These two snowstorms caused Wichita, Kansas to set a new February snowfall record. Wichita’s February total was 21.2 inches (54 cm) which just beat out the old record of 20.5 inches (52 cm) set all the way back in 1913 (period of record 1888-2013). Not only was this the snowiest February in Wichita, it was also the snowiest month ever recorded. For more snow totals, see page 5 of the summary.

Climate Outlook

At the end of February, ENSO-neutral conditions were still present and likely to continue through the spring. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for a large portion of the High Plains Region including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, southeastern Wyoming, and southern and eastern portions of South Dakota. Meanwhile, the precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of below normal precipitation for Colorado, western Kansas, southwestern Nebraska, and much of Wyoming. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation exist for the rest of the High Plains Region. The seasonal outlooks combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO). More information about these forecasts can be found here.

Drought Watch

There were slight changes to the U.S. Drought Monitor over the past month - some for better and some for worse. Approximately 91 percent of the Region was still in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought. This was down slightly from the end of last month when 92 percent of the Region was in D1-D4. Areas of degradation included an expansion of extreme drought (D3) in northwest South Dakota and a D4 expansion in eastern Colorado. Luckily, there were also improvements. The small area of D4 in southwestern Wyoming was erased and severe drought conditions (D2) continued to improve in eastern portions of the Dakotas. Although two large snowstorms hit southern areas of the Region, there were varying degrees of improvement in drought conditions. Luckily, portions of the D4 conditions improved in the north-central and south-central parts of Kansas. The D3 area in northeast Kansas improved as well. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released February 21st, drought conditions were expected to improve somewhat in North Dakota, northern and eastern South Dakota, northwestern Wyoming, and the far eastern edge of Kansas. Drought was expected to persist elsewhere through May 2013.

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