Rain, snow bring moisture following two dry weeks

Shaun Evertson
Posted 3/23/18

Widespread thunderstorms visited the Nebraska Panhandle last Thursday evening (March 15), delivering a very nice spring rain to most locations.

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Rain, snow bring moisture following two dry weeks


KIMBALL, Neb. – Widespread thunderstorms visited the Nebraska Panhandle last Thursday evening (March 15), delivering a very nice spring rain to most locations. In the early morning hours of Friday, March 16, the rain turned to snow, depositing a thick blanket of heavy, wet snow across much of the Panhandle and nearby areas. Friday was warm and breezy, so most of the snow melted directly into thirsty soil.

Liquid equivalent precipitation totals from that storm ranged from a trace to just over an inch across the Panhandle.

A follow-on fast moving system brought additional wintry mix to the tri-state region Sunday night (March 18) and into the early hours of Monday morning. This system deposited smaller quantities of snow than the previous system, and nearly all of that precipitation fell west of a line about 10 miles east
of Cheyenne.

The recent moisture was much needed in the wake of a fairly dry autumn and winter. It should give wheat stands a much-needed boost following a tough winter. It will also allow for some good early greening of cool season grasses. Given the dry conditions, however, a bit more precipitation would be beneficial.

Regional Forecast and Conditions

As of Tuesday morning (March 20), the temperature at sunrise was 30 degrees under mostly clear skies. Wind was out of the west at 12 mph and the barometer was 29.97 inches of mercury (in/Hg). The day was expected to be mostly sunny and breezy. Air temperatures were expected to reach 49 degrees before falling to an overnight low of
26 degrees.

Today’s (Friday) weather is expected to be partly sunny and warm with a high of 71 degrees and an overnight low of 37 degrees. There is a slight chance of rain forecast for tonight. Saturday is expected to be sunny and slightly cooler as a weather system approaches. Saturday’s high and low are forecast to be 64 and 29 degrees, respectively. Sunday is expected to be cooler and breezy, with a high of 50 degrees and a blustery overnight low of 23 degrees. There is some chance of rain and snow Saturday and Sunday. 

Monday through Wednesday are expected to remain cool and blustery, with daytime highs ranging in the 40’s and overnight lows falling into the 20’s. There is a slight chance of both rain and snow showers forecast for the Monday-Wednesday period.

Daytime air temperatures warmed across the region last week. At Kimball the March 13-19 daytime high averaged 55.42 degrees, about 4.3 degrees warmer than the previous week. The weekly high temperature was 66 degrees on March 14-15. Overnight lows warmed also, averaging 25.28 degrees or 4.28 degrees warmer than the previous week. The weekly low temperature was 18 degrees on March 13. The weekly mean temperature was 40.35 degrees, about 4.2 degrees warmer than the previous week, and just over 4 degrees warmer than the March average of 36.0 degrees. The long-term average high and low temperatures at Kimball for March are 49.8 and 22.2, respectively.

Widespread rain and snow visited the region over the last week. While Agate, Big Springs, and and Gordon reported zero precip, 10 other Panhandle stations reported snowfall ranging from an inch to more than a foot, and liquid equivalent moisture ranging from a tenth to .086 inches over the March 13-19 period. Snowfall averaged 2.59 inches and liquid equivalent precipitation averaged 0.34 inches. Last week’s averages were 0.00 and 0.00
inches respectively.

Soil temperatures warmed across the Panhandle over the March 13-19 period: (this week/last week/change): Alliance 33.4/31.0 (+2.4) degrees; Gordon 32.2/31.8 (+0.4) degrees; Mitchell 40.8/37.2 (+3.6) degrees; Scottsbluff 40.0/35.9 (+4.1); and Sidney 42.1/37.0
(+5.1) degrees.

Winds near Kimball averaged northwesterly and brisk over the March 13-19 period. Gusts for the week averaged 32.42 mph. High gust for the week was 45 mph on March 16.

March 23 Weather Almanac

Here’s an overview of March 23 temperature and precipitation highs, lows, and averages over the preceding 125 years at Kimball. Data is taken from the High Plains Regional Climate Center (www.hprcc.unl.edu), where you can easily find and track data for your own particular location.

Last year (March 23, 2017): Daily high temperature 68 degrees, overnight low 28 degrees, average temperature 48.0 degrees. Precipitation zero inches, snowfall zero inches, snow depth zero inches.

The warmest March 23 on record was 75 degrees in 1967. The coolest March 23 high temperature was 12 degrees in 1990. The coldest March 23 overnight low was -1 degrees in 1965. The warmest March 23 overnight low was 41 degrees in 2009. Over the years since 1893 the high temperature on March 23 has averaged 51 degrees, the overnight low 25 degrees, the daily average 38.0 degrees, precipitation has averaged 0.03 inches, snowfall 0.3 inches, snow depth zero inches.

The highest March 23 precipitation total was 0.38 inches liquid equivalent in 1984. The greatest snowfall was 4.0 inches in 1984. Greatest snow depth was 7.0 inches in 1979.

Snow has fallen on March 23 at Kimball 26 times over the last 125 years, with quantities ranging from a trace to 4.0 inches.

U.S. Drought Monitor

(March 13) National Summary: Generally moderate precipitation (up to 3 inches) fell on most of the Southeast, Lower Mississippi Valley, portions of the California and Oregon Coasts, and the higher elevations of northern California. Lesser amounts (0.6 to 1.0 inch) dampened the central Appalachians, the Tennessee Valley, portions of the northern Intermountain West and southern Rockies, and most other sections of California outside the interior valleys and arid southeastern areas. Meanwhile, little or no precipitation fell on a large swath encompassing most of the Plains, and negligible amounts were also recorded in parts of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys north of the confluence, the central Rockies, the Great Basin, and the desert Southwest. This includes some of the nation’s most intensely impacted drought areas from the Four Corners states eastward into the south-central Great Plains.

High Plains: Southern Drought persisted or worsened from Kansas, central Oklahoma, and eastern Texas westward into Colorado and New Mexico. Drought intensity was degraded in many areas, with Exceptional Drought (D4) introduced in a patch of northern Oklahoma east of the Panhandle. Extreme (D3) drought now covers a large swath across northeastern New Mexico, most of the Panhandle and adjacent areas in Texas, western Oklahoma, south-central and southwestern Kansas, and southeastern Colorado.

The last 5 months have been intensely dry from southern Kansas and adjacent Colorado southward through western Oklahoma, parts of northeastern New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. Most of this area has recorded only 0.05 to a few tenths of an inch of precipitation since early October, and impacts have steadily intensified. Winter wheat is struggling to grow, even in irrigated fields, and many crops planted after the early October rains never germinated.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, a large proportion of the winter wheat crop in several states is in poor or very poor condition, including 74 percent of the crop in New Mexico, 72 percent in Oklahoma, 53 percent in both Kansas and Texas, and 27 percent in Colorado. In addition, significant proportions of several other crops in Oklahoma are in poor or very poor conditions, specifically 60 percent of canola, 59 percent of rye, and 54 percent of oats. Texas oats are also suffering from the dryness, with 38 percent in poor or very poor condition. 38 percent of Texas oats are in poor or very poor.

The lack of rain has been accompanied by low humidity and strong winds at times, enhancing wildfire danger and causing some soil erosion. Many ponds and reservoirs are low, and some shallow wells have dried up.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a drought watch in northern and eastern counties, drought emergencies in south-central and southwest counties, and drought warnings in the remaining areas.

Farther north, dryness and drought eased somewhat in northeastern Montana and remained mostly unchanged farther east, though some D2 expansion was introduced in southwestern North Dakota. The winter wheat crop here has been affected by the dryness, but not to the degree observed in the southern Plains. South Dakota reports 32 percent of its crop in poor or very poor condition, as are 18 percent of the North Dakota winter wheat crop.

West: Outside the patches of moderate precipitation in California and adjacent Oregon, it was a dry week, with more than 0.5 inch of precipitation restricted to parts of Arizona and far southern Nevada.

Recent precipitation has been sufficient to end abnormal dryness along part of the west-central California coast, but conditions persisted or intensified elsewhere. In Utah, D3 expanded to cover a sizeable chunk of the middle of the state, and D2 extended farther northward in northeastern areas.

Dryness and drought in Oregon remained unchanged from last week, but the Governor of Oregon declared a drought emergency in Klamath County due to low snowpack, subnormal precipitation, diminished streamflows, and above-normal temperatures.

U.S. Conditions and Weather Report

(March 20) Late-season storminess continued to boost snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and other Western regions, including the northern Great Basin. The California Department of Water Resources indicated that the water content of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack had increased to 11 inches by March 15, nearly triple the mid-February value of 4 inches but only 40 percent of the mid-March normal.

Showers largely bypassed the southern High Plains and the Southwest, two regions where drought continued to worsen. Elevated temperatures (as much as 5 degrees above normal with readings peaking above 80), high winds, and low humidity levels on the southern High Plains resulted in blowing dust, a rash of grass fires, and further deterioration in the condition of rangeland, pastures, and winter grains.

Rain and snow maintained generally favorable conditions for winter wheat from Nebraska northward.

Farther east, relative normalcy returned to the Midwest, several weeks after a severe, late-winter flood struck the Ohio Valley and environs.

Stormy conditions persisted in the Northeast, as the third major storm of the month brought more heavy snow and high winds, as well as a full-fledged blizzard to coastal New England. Cold air in the storm’s wake drained deep into the Southeast, resulting in a multi-day freeze event as far south as northern Florida that peaked on March 15.

Southeastern weekly temperatures averaged as much as 10 degrees below normal. Owing to the record-setting February warmth that preceded the March cold snap, producers monitored Southeastern ornamentals, blooming fruits, and recently emerged crops for any signs of freeze injury. Warmer air returned across the Southeast at week’s end, accompanied by rain showers.

Western U.S. water supply forecast

La Niña’s influence on North American weather patterns appeared to wane in late winter. Instead, an atmospheric block brought mild weather (high pressure aloft) to much of Alaska but introduced cool air (low pressure aloft) to the western part of the contiguous U.S. The cooler pattern developed across the West in mid-February. Occasional storms accompanied the colder weather, resulting in heavy snow across the northern Rockies and an improvement in snowpack from Oregon and California eastward into the central Rockies. As a result, water-supply prospects remained favorable across the northern tier of the West and improved in the middle one-third of the region.

In the Southwest, however, both snowpack and runoff prospects remained abysmal. Snowpack and Precipitation by March 18, river basins in Oregon and across the southern half of the West had subpar snowpack. The situation was especially dire in Arizona and New Mexico— mostly less than 25 percent of average. Since mid-February, storms and cooler conditions have boosted snowpack across the middle one-third of the West. Consequently, basins within that area have a snowpack that has improved to 50 to 75 percent of average. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal snowpack covered most of Idaho, Montana, Washington,
and Wyoming. 

Season-to-date precipitation (October 1, 2017 – March 18, 2018) was slightly more impressive than snowpack, in part due to frequent warmth limiting accumulation of high-elevation snowpack. Still, precipitation was less than 50 percent of normal in most Southwestern basins, and less than 90 percent of normal in all of the West except Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and northern Oregon.

Spring and summer streamflow forecasts

As of March 1, projections for spring and summer streamflow were indicating the likelihood of near- or above-normal runoff in the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies. In other parts of the Northwest, including much of Oregon and southern Idaho, a lack of snow has reduced runoff potential, despite a periodically active weather pattern.

The Southwest has only sporadically received winter precipitation, leading to forecasts of poor spring and summer runoff—less than 25 percent of the normal volume in several river basins.

Reservoir Storage

Reservoir storage as a percent of average for the date was substantially below average in Arizona and New Mexico, and slightly below average in Washington. Cumulative storage for this time of year was near or above average in all other Western States. In several states, including California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, reservoir storage continues to reflect bounteous runoff in the spring and summer of 2017.