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Polar vortex could bring us more snow

by Randy Mannr
| February 22, 2021 1:07 AM

Thanks to the infamous “polar vortex,” frigid Arctic air drove deep into the central portions of the U.S. early last week. Snowfall and below zero temperatures led to widespread travel nightmares. The severe conditions led to power outages across Texas.

As of the weekend, millions of Texans were still without power. The very cold air combined with warmer air from the south spawned a deadly tornado in North Carolina last Tuesday.

Houston had the most snow ever for Valentine’s Day with 2.5 inches.

Lows last week dropped down to minus 38 degrees at Hibbing, Minn., minus 33 at Valentine, Neb., minus 2 at Amarillo, Texas and minus 6 degrees at Tyler, Texas.

Readings went to 1 degree at Shreveport, La., with a wind chill of minus 11 degrees. It was the coldest Mardi Gras ever in Louisiana.

Jonesboro, Ark., dropped to 0 degrees as thousands of pipes froze. Wind chill temperatures dropped to minus 14 degrees in that area. These are some of the coldest temperatures in the southern U.S., especially Texas, in more than 30 years.

The frigid weather will have likely caused major damage to citrus crops in Texas. The wheat areas also had massive winterkill and there were widespread cattle deaths.

Snow was seen down to the Gulf of Mexico and northern Mexico. Mexico City has seen rotating blackouts as frozen pipelines in the U.S. have led to disruptions in the supply of natural gas.

Low temperatures were so cold across the northern U.S. that they rivaled readings in Siberia. According to Accuweather.com, the Russian city of Yakutsk had a low of minus 33 degrees last Tuesday, not as cold as Hibbing, Minn.

However, earlier this year, a very frigid weather pattern did hit Yakutsk. For many days, lows in late December into the middle of January were below minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the Associated Press, this was the longest stretch of subzero cold in that region in at least 14 years.

About 500 miles northeast of Yakutsk, there is a small district called Delyankir that reported a low temperature of minus 73 Fahrenheit on Jan. 18.

According to the Siberian Times, the lowest temperature in that region in history was reported at a rural village called Oymyakon. The lowest reading ever at that station was minus 89.9 degrees in 1933, and it’s also known as the “coldest inhabited place on Earth.”

NORTH IDAHO CHILL

Here in North Idaho, our coldest day in Coeur d’Alene was on Feb. 12 with a high of only 20 degrees and a low of 7 degrees at Cliff’s station.

At Spokane International Airport, the high on that day was 19 degrees with a low of 9 degrees.

Bonners Ferry dropped to 1 degree on Feb. 12 and had a low of 0 on the 13th. Kellogg had a low of 6 degrees and Rathdrum reported 7 degrees last Tuesday.

Readings were even colder in some of the outlying areas last Thursday morning as Athol dropped to 3 degrees, Rathdrum dipped to 5 degrees and it was a very cold 3 degrees at Spirit Lake.

This was also a long stretch of very cold weather in our region at this time of year. According to Cliff’s records, from the afternoon of Feb. 7 through the afternoon of Feb. 17, this 10-day period did not have a high temperature at or above freezing. Highs during that time were mostly in the 20s with lows in the teens, except on Feb. 12 when temperatures dropped into the single digits.

Prior to Feb. 7, there were only six days during this winter season with highs below the freezing mark.

It looks like most of our snow for 2020-21 will have fallen at the beginning and at the end of the season. We had the record snowfalls in October for the second year in a row and the rest of this month and March are showing indications of above-normal snowfall for much of the Inland Northwest.

Dec. 31 through Feb. 15 was the most snowless period in history. Only 4.4 inches fell during that period, 3.1 inches in January and 1.3 inches for the first half of February. The old record, according to Cliff’s records, was 7.7 inches set back in 1944.

For the rest of the snowfall season, we now believe that Coeur d’Alene will probably end up with a total near 60 inches, about 10 inches below the seasonal normal.

However, if the polar vortex locks in over the western U.S. and we get a series of storms from a cooler northwesterly direction into next month, there’s an outside chance that our final total could be close to the normal of 69.8 inches. That would be an amazing total considering we had the driest mid-winter period in recorded history.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com