After a historic blast of arctic air, unusual southern snow and a series of crippling ice storms across much of the nation, weather models are hinting at a dramatic shift to warmer temperatures for millions of people over the next 7 to 10 days.
Across the northern Plains, cities such as Fargo, Rapid City and Minneapolis have all remained as much as 20 degrees below average for nearly the entire month of February. In the area typically known as the US’s icebox region, towns like International Falls, Minnesota, and Minot, North Dakota, have now tallied nine consecutive days of temperatures failing to climb above 0 degrees.
No state has been shell-shocked more than Texas. Millions remain in the dark as arctic air, which initially took its toll on the power grid, has now buckled pipes and water supplies for some in the region.
On Tuesday morning, Dallas dipped to a mind-boggling -2 degrees, some 41 degrees below its seasonal normal for this time of year and marking the first time the city had dipped below zero since 1989.
As the weekend nears, the massive dip in the jet stream, which allowed the arctic air to plunge southward, will gradually lift north. As this reversal is set in motion, temperatures across the northern Plains will surge as much as 35 to 45 degrees above the historic lows this past week.
In the south, cities such as Houston, which reported snow on its nearby beaches, will also feel signs of warmth as highs climb into the 50’s come Saturday, the 60’s by Sunday and possibly the 70’s by the middle of next week.
The Climate Prediction Center supports the significant shift towards warmer conditions for large areas of the northern, central and southern Plains that were all impacted by the wintry conditions over the past week. In parts of Oklahoma, where temperatures fell to their lowest in over a century, forecast models suggest highs in places such as Oklahoma City will rebound back to the low 60’s beginning next Tuesday.
With the start of spring officially now 30 days away and days increasing in length by roughly 2 to 3 minutes per day, a hint of spring couldn’t come at a better time for much of the winter battered nation.
Along with the Gulf Coast state of Louisiana, where temperatures in the teens were the norm earlier in the week, highs are set to rebound into the mid 60’s by Sunday and the mid 70’s by the middle of next week. Although the warmth will not be nearly as drastic for parts of the northern Plains and Midwest, temperatures should still climb above average over the next week. Part of the reason the warmth will be kept at bay for these northern areas is the historic amount of snow that has covered many of these areas.
Snow acts as a great coolant during the day as its white color reflects solar energy and any warmth off its surface. This limits daytime high temperatures. After sunset, snow continues to cool its surrounding environment, especially if the skies are clear since snow cover is an excellent emitter of long wave radiation. Meaning the areas with mostly snow still on the ground could fail to realize the potential warmth Mother Nature will be serving up next week.
Although February looks to end on a milder note for many in the recently impacted regions, it’s important to note that several more blasts of arctic air could be expected for the northern Plains, upper Midwest and Northeast, even well into March.
In fact, for the states of Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado, March is climatologically the snowiest time of year, so a few more blasts of wintry conditions should come as no surprise.
However, it is likelier that the southern Plains and the Gulf Coast states will begin to trend in the direction of noticeable warmth in the coming weeks, and as a result, the gradual uptick in severe weather.
Another growing concern over the next few days is river flooding. The bitter cold temperatures from the past week will lead to ice jams. An ice jam occurs when pieces of floating ice build up and block the flow of water in rivers and streams.
“The main concern with ice jams is flooding,” said Jennifer Gray, CNN Meteorologist. “The most common places for ice jams are usually near bridges and sharp turns in rivers. When large chunks of ice flow up against a bridge, that bridge acts like a dam causing the water to back up behind it.”
National Weather Service offices in multiple states including Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota are warning about the potential for river flooding this week due to ice jams.
A flood advisory is in effect for two counties in eastern Nebraska due to an ongoing ice jam.
“Minor flooding was occurring and will be possible for at least the next few weeks, the NWS office in Omaha warned. “Water levels around ice jams are notoriously unpredictable, and can change quickly with little or no warning. Colder than normal temperatures through the next week will create large areas of ice.”