February 2023 Climate Summary
Mountains of eastern Wyoming, Photo Courtesy of Gannon Rush
February in the High Plains had it all. From severe weather to snowstorms, nothing was off the table.
Snow continued to pile up in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and parts of Nebraska, leading to numerous impacts. Much of South Dakota was shut down due to the storm in late February, with up to 16 inches (40.64 cm) reported in Huron and 44 mph (71 km/h) wind gusts in Sioux Falls. Towards the end of the month, the first severe weather outbreak of the year occurred in parts of southern and eastern Kansas. A tornado occurred on the 26th, with a weak EF-0 causing damage to the town of Liberal. With the same storm system, the winds were exceptionally strong. A wind gust of 97 mph (156 km/h) was recorded near the town of Hodgeman, with numerous reports of wind damage that day.
While temperatures were close to normal for the southern part of the region in part to a cold start, the rest of the month was predominantly above-normal. This has led plants to begin blooming much earlier than expected. The plants that have bloomed are highly susceptible to freezing temperatures that may still occur.
Precipitation and Water Resources
Precipitation was spotty this past month, however, the precipitation that did occur was well above-normal. Both ends of the spectrum occurred this month with near-record dryness and wetness. Despite still being meteorological winter, severe weather was present this month.
Winter storms continued to impact the northern parts of the region, with Wyoming and the Dakotas significantly impacted. Rawlins, Wyoming, recorded their 2nd wettest month with 1.67 inches (42.42 cm). Although the official station does not track snowfall, a nearby station reported over 34 inches (86.36 cm) of snow in February. Bismarck, North Dakota, and Huron, South Dakota, ranked 8th snowiest with over 15 inches (38.10 cm) in both locations. Opposite of this wetness, Akron, Colorado, was bone dry, recording a mere trace of precipitation this month to tie for the driest.
With the conclusion of February, the meteorological winter has ended. In a complete turnaround from last year, many places recorded near-record precipitation and snowfall. Multiple locations in Nebraska and Wyoming recorded their wettest and snowiest winters. Valentine, Nebraska crushed its previous snow record by nearly 14 inches (35.56 cm), with 56.4 inches
(143.26 cm) observed.
As of March 1st, mountain snowpack continued to be in great shape. Most basins are slightly above normal, outside the South Platte Basin in Wyoming and the Arkansas River Basin in Colorado. Snowpack is deep for spring runoff, which is beneficial to the current drought conditions.
Temperatures this past month were, for the most part, near to below normal for the region. Parts of western Wyoming and northwestern Colorado were 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) or more below normal.
Temperatures were well below normal across parts of Wyoming, with Rawlins and Lander ranking as the 10th coldest on record. The town of Farson had a brutal month, with an average temperature of 1.6 degrees F (-16.9 degrees C). The high temperature only surpassed 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) in only two days in February.
While temperatures were chilly in Wyoming, Kansas had milder temperatures. Many locations recorded ten or more days of 60 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), while the town of Lakin reached 80 degrees F (26.7 degrees C) on the 27th.
Drought improvement continued into February in response to the significant wetness this winter. While conditions did slightly deteriorate this past month, it was very isolated. Overall, there was a 2.4 percent decrease in D0 to D4 (abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions).
The continuous onslaught of winter storms has greatly improved the drought situation across the central and northern parts of the region. Both South Dakota and Wyoming observed a nearly 11 percent decrease in D2 to D4 (severe to exceptional drought) this past month, while Kansas experienced an 11 percent reduction in D0-D4. Elsewhere in the region, other improvements and degradation were observed. According to the Climate Prediction Center’s U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for March, drought conditions will improve in eastern South Dakota and western Wyoming.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, La Niña conditions are likely to weaken and transition into ENSO-neutral this spring. A La Niña 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 Moderate Flooding in the eastern parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota through the end of May. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), fire potential will be limited across the region through June.
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.
The three-month temperature outlook shows an increased chance of below-normal temperatures across the northern United States, while above-normal temperatures are favored for the southern and eastern states. Increased chances of below-normal temperatures are present in North Dakota, while above-normal temperatures are slightly favored in Colorado.
The outlook for the next three months indicates below-normal precipitation across the southwestern parts of the United States and above-normal chances across the northeastern and midwestern portions. The majority of Colorado slightly leans towards below-normal precipitation, while the rest of the region has equal chances.
The U.S Seasonal Drought Outlook released on February 28th indicates that improvements to drought conditions will continue across the majority of the region.
Station Summaries: By the Number
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