Winter returns with snow and cold, spring is just around the corner

KIMBALL – The winter storm that cooled an unseasonably warm February and brought lots of snow to parts of the Panhandle of Nebraska and the tri-state region trod fairly lightly across the southern Panhandle.
Temperatures began to fall in the evening last Wednesday, Feb. 22. By Thursday morning at Kimball light rain and drizzle was changing to snow. Snow continued throughout the next 30 hours before tapering off as the weather front passed.
Snowfall totals north of Kimball County were prodigious, with about 16 inches falling at Scottsbluff. Most locations across the region received considerably less snow.
In the wake of the storm temperatures fell to daytime highs in the 20’s and overnight lows in the single digits.
As winter storms go, this one was relatively mild as it was not accompanied by high winds. There was some newborn calf death loss but overall cow-calf operations seem to have weathered the storm quite well.
Since soil temperatures across most of the region were well above freezing, much of the recent snow will soak into the ground on melting rather than running off to low-lying areas. This should provide a welcome soil moisture boost and a significant aid to spring green-up, which is not many weeks away.

Regional Forecast and Conditions

Warmer conditions are expected to prevail through the weekend and into mid-week. Forecasters anticipate mostly sunny skies with some breeziness and daytime temperatures reaching into the mid-50’s to low-60’s. Overnight lows are expected to fall into the teens and 20’s. As of the Feb. 28 forecast, no precipitation was expected through March 8.
With the arrival of a winter storm, air temperatures tumbled sharply across the region last week. At Kimball the Feb. 21-27 daytime high averaged 42.71 degrees, about 20 degrees cooler than the previous week. The weekly high temperature was 70 degrees on Feb. 21. Overnight lows averaged 17.28 degrees, about 13 degrees cooler than the previous week. The weekly low temperature was 6 degrees on Feb. 25. The weekly mean temperature was 30 degrees, not quite 18 degrees cooler than the previous week and very near the February average of 29.4. The long term average high and low temperatures for February at Kimball are 43.0 and 15.7.
Nine of 13 Panhandle stations reported precipitation over the Feb. 21-27 period, ranging from 0.67 inches at Lodgepole to 0.02 inches at Sidney 3S. Four stations reported zero precipitation for the week, including Agate, Alliance, Big Springs and Hemingford. Precipitation averaged 0.27 across the Panhandle for the week, compared to the 30-year average of 0.09 inches. Since April 1, 2016, Panhandle precipitation stands at 96 percent of the 30-year average, ranging from 120 percent at Alliance to 60 percent at Sidney 3 S. Since Oct. 1, 2016, Panhandle precipitation stands at 89 percent of the 30-year average, ranging from 113 percent at Kimball to 43 percent at Sidney 3 S.
Soil temperatures across the Panhandle for the period: Alliance 38.40 degrees; Gordon 36.85 degrees; Mitchell 38.12 degrees; Scottsbluff 38.78 degrees; and Sidney 39.15 degrees.
Winds near Kimball averaged south-southwesterly and sometimes breezy over the period. Gusts for the week averaged 30.14 mph. High gust for the week was 55 mph on Feb. 21.

March 3 Weather Almanac

Here’s an overview of March 3 temperature and precipitation highs, lows, and averages over the preceding 123 years at Kimball. Data is taken from the High Plains Regional Climate Center (, where you can easily find and track data for your own particular location.
Last year: Daily high temperature 60 degrees, overnight low 23 degrees, average temperature 41.5 degrees. Precipitation trace, snowfall trace, snow depth trace.
The warmest March 3 on record was 72 degrees in 1974. The coolest high temperature was 8 degrees in 1960. The coldest overnight low was -14 degrees in 1960. The warmest overnight low was 35 degrees in 1935. Over the years since 1893 the high temperature has averaged 46 degrees, the overnight low 20 degrees, the daily average 32.7 degrees, precipitation has averaged 0.03 inches, snowfall 0.3 inches, snow depth zero inches.
The highest March 3 precipitation recorded over the last 123 years was 0.90 inches in 1963.
Snow has fallen on the day at Kimball 32 times over the last 123 years. The greatest snowfall was 10.0 inches in 1939. Measurable snow depth was reported in 33 of the last 123 years. The greatest March 3 snow depth was 10.0 inches in 1963.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Central to Northern Plains: Parts of eastern Kansas measured an inch or more of precipitation this week, but only a couple tenths of an inch fell across the rest of the Central to Northern Plains with many areas reporting no precipitation. In the High Plains of Colorado, D2 expanded in Lincoln County to better reflect dryness over the last 7 days to 12 months. As noted by the Colorado Climate Center, soil moisture remains a concern for eastern Colorado as spring rains will be needed to make up for deficits during the second half of last growing season.
National summary: Several weather systems moved across the contiguous U.S. during this U.S. Drought Monitor week.
Upper-level troughs, surface fronts, and surface low pressure systems slammed into the Pacific Coast, drenching California, Oregon, and Washington with several inches of precipitation, especially in the favored upslope areas. As they crossed the coastal ranges, the weather systems dropped above-normal precipitation across parts of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
Tapping Gulf of Mexico moisture, a couple of systems drenched parts of the Southern Plains to Lower Mississippi Valley, while another brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley, but most of the Northern to Central Plains was drier than normal.
Upper-level ridging in the central part of the Continental United States contributed to above-normal temperatures across most of the country and drier-than-normal weather for most areas east of the Mississippi River. With persistent unusually warm temperatures across much of the country, plants are responding prematurely, especially in the Southeast to Midwest. For example, as noted by the Alabama State Climatologist, plant phenology indicates that Alabama is around 20 days ahead of normal with warm soil temps (and dry soils) so that plants think it is March 12 instead of Feb. 20.
The precipitation that fell this week continued to reduce long-term drought in California and contracted drought in the Southern Plains, but dry conditions in the Mid-Mississippi Valley, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic expanded drought.

Western U.S. water forecast

La Niña faded in recent weeks, but the barrage of Pacific storms that headlined January’s weather continued through the first three weeks of February.
Although research has only begun, one area of interest has been a pool of anomalously cool water that developed last autumn over the northern Pacific Ocean. The Pacific “cool pool” may have helped to anchor the polar jet stream in such a way as to batter parts of the West with repeated storms over an extended period.
The Sierra Nevada received more than its normal annual precipitation in less than 2 months to start 2017, suddenly pushing northern and central California into flood-control mode. In fact, drought concerns throughout the West have greatly diminished, except for lingering surface water and groundwater shortages in southern California and the Desert Southwest.

Snowpack and Precipitation

By Feb. 15, most basins in the central one-third of the West – including the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range – were reporting much above-normal snowpack for this time of year. In contrast, a few Southwestern basins have lost much of their snow due to recent and ongoing warmth. Meanwhile, many Northwestern basins have a near or slightly below-normal snowpack, due to early-season precipitation falling as rain and more recent storms delivering mostly powdery, rather than wet, snow accumulations.
Seasonal precipitation from Oct. 1 to Feb. 17 was near or above normal throughout the West. Amid an overall impressive Western winter wet season, precipitation totals have been truly exceptional in many watersheds stretching from the Sierra Nevada into western Wyoming.

Spring and Summer Stream Flow Forecasts
By Feb. 1, projections for spring and summer stream flow were indicating the likelihood of near- or above-normal runoff in most Western watersheds, except in northern areas. In particular, runoff in excess of 180 percent of average can be expected in many basins from the Sierra Nevada to the Wasatch Range. In contrast, runoff volumes of 70 to 90 percent of average should occur in numerous watersheds from the Cascades to the northern Rockies.

Reservoir Storage
On Feb. 1, reservoir storage as a percent of average for the date was substantially below average in New Mexico and Washington, and slightly below average in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. In some watersheds, current storage has been reduced to make room for abundant runoff expected during the spring and summer. During January 2017, statewide storage in California rose above the historical average for the first time in nearly 4 years.

U.S. Conditions and Weather Report
As of Feb. 22, a few days of dry weather allowed operators of the Oroville Dam to reduce pressure on the weakened, and previously overtopped, auxiliary spillway by utilizing the damaged main spillway to lower the lake level.
Heavy precipitation returned to California during the second half of the week, causing local flooding and mudslides, as well as bringing a renewed focus on management of excess runoff in a variety of watersheds.
Stormy weather also extended into the Northwest and parts of the Southwest, maintaining overall favorable spring and summer water-
supply prospects.
Dry weather accompanied record-setting warmth across the northern and central Plains and the Midwest. The spring-like warmth eliminated any remaining snow cover, except along the Canadian border and in New England.
Weekly temperatures averaged at least 10 to 20 degrees above normal in a broad area covering the north-central U.S., and were as much as 10 degrees above normal in southern and eastern Texas and the southern Mid-Atlantic States.
Despite near- to above-normal temperatures, parts of New England received additional snow in the wake of last week’s storm.
Elsewhere, a slow-moving storm delivered beneficial precipitation to the south-central U.S. and generally light rain across the Southeast.
On the southern Plains, rain was especially beneficial for winter grains that have been stressed by warm, dry weather.
Parts of the South, including Deep South Texas, the southern Appalachians, and Florida’s peninsula, continued to experience drought.
As of Feb. 28, heavy precipitation brought renewed flooding to parts of northern and central California; maintained pressure on several reservoirs and levees; and boosted the water equivalency of the Sierra Nevada snowpack to 45 inches – more than 160 percent of the normal peak seasonal accumulation, according to the California Department of Water Resources. Some of California’s worst flooding occurred on Feb. 20-21 in and near San Jose.
Showery weather also persisted in the Northwest, accompanied by near- to below-normal temperatures.
East of the Rockies, multiple storms resulted in a variety of weather conditions.
During the first half of the week, widespread rain fell across the eastern half of the U.S., with the greatest totals in the Gulf Coast region. In particular, parts of Florida received much-needed rain.
Later, a storm system emerging from the Intermountain West delivered heavy snow from Wyoming into the upper Great Lakes region and showers and thunderstorms from the lower Midwest into the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States.
Meanwhile, sustained and record-shattering warmth dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation, pushing weekly temperatures more than 20 degrees above normal in numerous locations from the southern and eastern Corn Belt into the Northeast.
Late-week temperatures briefly dipped below 10 degrees as far south as eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Sub-zero readings were noted on February 25 in parts of western and northern Nebraska, where substantial snow had just fallen.  

USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Reports
Weekly Crop Progress and Condition reports have ended for the 2016 growing season. Monthly reports will be issued December through March on the first Monday of the month. Weekly reports will resume April 3 for the 2017 season.

For the month of February, temperatures averaged six to eight degrees above normal across Nebraska. Heavy snow occurred over northern portions of the State during the month. Temperatures peaked in 70’s during the third week, resulting in producers beginning preparations for spring planting.
Topsoil moisture supplies rated 8 percent very short, 17 short, 68 adequate, and 7 surplus. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 9 percent very short, 21 short, 66 adequate, and 4 surplus.
Winter wheat condition rated 2 percent very poor, 8 poor, 46 fair, 40 good, and 4 excellent.
Cattle and calf conditions rated 0 percent very poor, 1 poor, 13 fair, 74 good, and 12 excellent. Calving progress was 19 percent complete. Cattle and calf death loss rated 0 percent heavy, 66 average, and 34 light.
Sheep and lamb conditions rated 1 percent very poor, 1 poor, 17 fair, 77 good, and 4 excellent. Sheep and lamb death loss rated 1 percent heavy, 65 average, and 34 light.
Hay and roughage supplies rated 1 percent very short, 3 short, 89 adequate, and 7 surplus.
Stock water supplies rated 1 percent very short, 6 short, 92 adequate, and 1 surplus.

Wyoming experienced warmer than normal temperatures for the month. Thirty-three of the 34 reporting stations reported above average temperatures for the month with the high temperature of 72 degrees recorded at LaGrange, and a low of 22 degrees below zero at Sheridan.
Above normal moisture was reported at 28 of the 34 reporting stations. All of the stations reported some moisture for the month with Lake Yellowstone reporting the most moisture at 7.63 inches and Laramie reporting the least with 0.15 inches.
A reporter from North Central Wyoming reported that a week of warm weather and heavy snow melt with some flooding was followed by lower temperatures and more snow. Another reporter from North Central Wyoming indicated that lambing and calving are just getting started and stock water is still short but hopeful that when the snow melts it will fill some of the reservoirs. They also indicated that although the topsoil and subsoil are getting some much needed moisture and the winter wheat is green and looking good the wind remains an issue for drying up the moisture before it can soak in and do good.
A reporter from East Central Wyoming indicated that although they had received some moisture they do not have enough subsoil moisture to sustain continual growth for the season. A reporter from West Central Wyoming noted that the snow keeps piling up. They also indicated that feeding hay is a necessity and spring floods are a concern.
A reporter from South Central Wyoming reported that it has been warm and dry for the most part, calving is just getting underway and the snowpack and water prospects look good. Another reporter from South Central Wyoming indicated that producers are feeding extra because of the amount of snow covering the ground.
A reporter from Southeastern Wyoming reported they had a big snow event in February and is now having to feed hay through a cold spell. Another reporter from Southeastern Wyoming indicated that they continue to be very dry with warmer than normal temperatures and dry winds.
Stock water supplies across Wyoming were rated 8 percent very short, 13 percent short, 72 percent adequate, and 7 percent surplus.

Record high temperatures during February reduced snow cover significantly in eastern districts, although some western counties continued to receive seasonal snowfall. Warm, windy, and dry conditions were largely concerning for wheat and pasture condition in areas where adequate moisture hasn’t been received throughout the season. Reporters in eastern counties noted that some wheat is breaking dormancy due to warm temperatures. Warm weather has been favorable for livestock condition and early fieldwork. As of Feb. 27, 2017, snow pack in Colorado was at 138 percent measured as percent of median snowfall.

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