February 2024 Climate Summary

Sunset in Western Kansas, Photo Courtesy of Gannon Rush

Regional Breakdown

February capped off a very typical El Niño pattern for the High Plains, with warmer temperatures and below normal precipitation across the northern portions of the region. These conditions this winter took a toll, with the impacts rearing their head in late February.

Snow was hard to come by, with the historic snow drought continuing through this month. Snowpack is at or near record lows, with measures being taken to account for the low runoff this year. On the flipside, the low snowpack has reduced the chances of flooding this spring drastically.

Outside of a cold snap in the middle of January, unseasonably warm temperatures have dominated. Plants began blooming weeks earlier than usual across Kansas and parts of Colorado and Nebraska. The dryness and warmer temperatures also led to a rash of wildfires late in the month, with the largest taking place outside North Platte, Nebraska. Wind gusts over 40 mph (64 km/h) rapidly spread the fire, with over 71,000 acres (111 square miles) consumed by the fire. Minimal property damage occurred due to the sparse population of Lincoln County. However, a state disaster declaration was issued.

Above: Departure from 1991-2020 normal temperature (top) and percent of normal precipitation (bottom) for February 2024 in the High Plains region. Maps produced by the High Plains Regional Climate Center and are available at: http://hprcc.unl.edu/maps/current

Precipitation and Water Resources

Precipitation this month was finally ample in the west after missing out the previous several months. While it was beneficial and greatly needed, it did not improve the snow drought. In the eastern portions of the region, any form of precipitation was near minimal. 

The eastern parts of the High Plains were nearly bone-dry, with no form of precipitation whatsoever. Lincoln, Nebraska, and Mobridge, South Dakota recorded trace amounts of snowfall in February, tying their lowest snowfall for the month. The areas around Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota received less than 0.10 inches (2.54 mm) of precipitation this month, leading to concerns heading into spring. 

In the west, parts of Colorado tallied impressive totals for February. Pueblo recorded its wettest month on record, with 1.48 inches (3.76 cm) of precipitation. This total propelled them to record their wettest winter, with 3.11 inches (7.90 cm). Nearby Denver and Colorado Springs also ranked in the top 5 this month, with Colorado Springs also ranking 6th wettest this winter. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the snow drought was prevalent across the Dakotas. Warmer temperatures limited snowfall this winter, with many locations ranking in the top 10 lowest. While snowfall amounts were low, that did not necessarily mean low precipitation. Fargo, North Dakota recorded their second wettest winter with 3.83 inches (9.73 cm) of precipitation, while Sisseton, South Dakota ranked 4th with 3.92 inches (9.96 cm).

At the end of February, snowpack remained in decent shape in Colorado and southern Wyoming. Across northern Wyoming and Montana, Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) was exceptionally low and nearly at record lows. Despite near to above normal precipitation this winter, streamflow was in the 10th percentile in eastern Nebraska and northern Kansas.

Above: Total precipitation in inches (top) and departure from normal precipitation in inches (bottom) for February 2024. These maps are produced by HPRCC and can be found on the Current Climate Summary Maps page at: http://hprcc.unl.edu/maps/current

Temperatures

Picking up where January left off, February brought record to near-record warmth for the region. Outside of a short but extreme cool down late in the month, temperatures were 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) or more above normal for most of the High Plains.

After sizzling hot temperatures for much of the month, a swift and chilly front pushed through the region on the 27th. Temperatures dropped nearly 60 degrees F (33 degrees C) in 24 hours, with some places swinging from record highs to below-freezing in a mere day. This would be rather brief, as temperatures would quickly rebound by the end of the month.

For the month and winter, most major locations ranked in the top 5 warmest. In a typical pattern for El Niño, the warmest temperatures were found in the Dakotas. For North Dakota, Fargo and Grand Forks ranked warmest this month and this winter. The eastern part of South Dakota was also exceptionally warm, with Sioux Falls ranking warmest for February and winter. While El Nino typically brings warmer temperatures, this winter was extraordinarily hot with only a few days being below normal.

Drought Conditions

While overall drought conditions did not improve much this month, the intensity was reduced in the region. Precipitation did occur, albeit not desperately needed snow in the northern High Plains. Overall, the region experienced a minor reduction of less than 1 percent of D0 to D4 (abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions). 

Drought began to reemerge across the Dakotas and northern Wyoming due to the snow drought. Parts of North Dakota did receive record precipitation this winter, however, this was predominantly rain or sleet. The lack of snowfall and warm temperatures have led to growing concerns that insect populations will be above normal this year in the state.

On a more optimistic note, the region is now free of extreme drought (D3) for the first time since May 2020. The last remnants were erased in Colorado and Kansas this month, providing a sense of relief and optimism heading into spring. Elsewhere in the region, other improvements and degradation were observed. According to the Climate Prediction Center’s U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for January, drought conditions will improve in Kansas and parts of Nebraska.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced as a joint effort of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Drought Mitigation
Center, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For current Drought Monitor
information, please see: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Climate Outlooks

According to the Climate Prediction Center, El Niño conditions are likely to continue but transition towards ENSO-neutral in mid to late Spring. An El Niño advisory is currently in effect. For more information, visit  https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf 

The National Weather Service’s long-range flood outlook indicates elevated chances of Minor Flooding in the eastern parts of Kansas and South Dakota through the end of May. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), fire potential will be elevated in the Dakotas, eastern Colorado, and western Kansas in March and April.

The seasonal temperature and precipitation outlook presented below combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). To learn more about these outlooks, please visit http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov.  

Temperature

The three-month temperature outlook shows an increased chance of above-normal temperatures across the northern United States. Above-normal temperatures are slightly favored in the Dakotas and Wyoming.   

Precipitation

The outlook for the next three months indicates below-normal precipitation across the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest, while above-normal precipitation is favored for the eastern United States and portions of the Plains. Above-normal precipitation is slightly favored in Kansas and Nebraska.

Drought

The U.S Seasonal Drought Outlook released on February 29th indicates that improvements to drought conditions will continue in Kansas and Nebraska but degrade North Dakota.  

Station Summaries: By the Number

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