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Spring Storm Smashes Snow and Temperature Records

Sleet? Check. Hail? Check. Snow? Yup, got that too.

You name the type of precipitation, and odds are that it is falling somewhere between Texas and Minnesota on Wednesday, as ice storm warnings, winter storm warnings for heavy snowfall, and flood watches and warnings have all been issued across this region as a strong spring storm moves through.

Forecast high temperatures on Wednesday, April 10, showing the sharp contrast ahead of and behind the Arctic cold front.
Click on the image to enlarge. Credit:

The storm has smashed all-time snowfall records and set new benchmarks for a late season Arctic air outbreak in the West, while at the same time helping to pump record-breaking warm air along the East Coast, where temperatures soared into the 80s on Tuesday.

So far, the storm has been most notable for its heavy snow and January-like cold. Take Rapid City, S.D. for exampe: the 20 inches of snow that fell on Tuesday made it the single snowiest day in that small city since records began. This broke the previous record of 18 inches, which was also set in the month of April back in 2001. The snow had a liquid equivalent of 1.21 inches, which should aid in drought recovery efforts in the area, although it won’t be sufficient to erase the region’s long-term precipitation deficit.

Rapid City also broke its record low temperature for the date, when the temperature tumbled to 11°F, one degree colder than the previous record, which was set in 1982. The high temperature for the day only made it up to 17°F, which broke the record for the coldest high temperature for the date.

The snowfall totals have exceeded 2 feet in some areas, with 28.5 inches recorded in Lander, Wyo., 2 feet in Harrison, Neb., and 18 inches in Boulder, Colo. Denver picked up 6.5 inches of snow, and hundreds of flights were canceled on Tuesday due to the combination of heavy snow and strong winds that reached 60 mph at times.

The snow has been great news for spring skiers (2 feet of snow piled up at Alta Mountain in Utah, for example) as well as farmers and water managers who are anxiously eyeing water supplies for the summer after more than a year of drought.

Photo of the newly snow-covered Rocky Mountain foothills near Boulder, CO on Wednesday.
Credit: NWS.

The storm has also led to signficant ice accumulations, with 1.75 inches of ice recorded in Anselmo, Neb., and a half-inch of sleet in Ainsworth, Neb.

The Arctic cold front and a stationary front that extended eastward from the low pressure center contributed to some stunning temperature contrasts on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, temperatures were in the upper 70s in southern Illinois, while in the northern part of the state, on the other side of the front, it was only in the low to mid-30s.

On Tuesday, high temperatures went above 100°F in South Texas, with a national high of 108°F in Laredo, while temperatures fell below 10°F in southern Wyoming.

Also on Tuesday, Dyess Air Force Base in Texas hit a high temperature in the mid-90s before the front came charging into town. Once the front passed, the temperature dropped 50°F in just five hours, according to a Facebook post from the National Weather Service.

Simulated radar image for Wednesday afternoon, showing a line of thunderstorms forming (yellow and red hues) along the cold front in the Mississippi River Valley.

In addition to serving as the dividing line between summer and winter, the Arctic cold front made for some awkward weather combinations on Tuesday evening, as thunderstorms erupted in the cold air mass, resulting in large, damaging hail falling at the same time as freezing rain and sleet in some places, a combination that is not often seen.

Typically, severe thunderstorms occur in areas of warm, humid air, but the front was helping to lift the warm air up and over the shallower area of cold air, allowing for the rare weather to strike in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and other states.

On Wednesday and into Thursday, multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms are forecast from Michigan south to the Gulf Coast, with the potential for a few tornadoes in addition to damaging straight-line winds and large hail.

On Wednesday morning, the Chicago area was pounded by severe thunderstorms containing large hail and damaging winds, and the Weather Service released a statement warning of heavy rainfall and potential flash flooding there on Wednesday night.

The low pressure system responsible for the inclement weather is forecast to move into the upper Great Lakes on Wednesday and into Thursday, spreading heavy snow into Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with a potentially damaging dose of sleet and freezing rain. About 6 to 12 inches of snow are expected to fall in Minneapolis, and computer models have been hinting at the potential for heavy snow in northern New England as the storm emerges off the Atlantic over the weekend.

Related Content:
Spring Blizzard Aids Drought-Stricken States
Spring Blizzard to Dump Heavy Snow, Spark Severe Weather
Ongoing Coverage of Historic U.S. Drought
Drought Has Ties to La Nina, With Global Warming Assist
In West, Second Drought-Filled Summer in Store
rom 2012 to 2013: March Blows Hot, Then Cold
From Heat Wave to Snowstorms, March Goes to Extremes


By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on April 10th, 2013

One of the key predictions of climate change science is the trend towards an increasing frequency of extreme weather events. However, this current US weather situation strikes me as different from “extreme” in that this is instead an unusual collection of extreme events. Things like a 50F temperature change in 5 hours in Texas are also another dimension of strangeness. I know weird things can happen in Texas but, joking aside, that is not normal. I therefore wonder if there is some parallel to this situation from the annals of US weather statistics. If there is not, then can this current overall picture of an intense temporal and spatial confluence of odd extremes be defined as statistically rare or strange and unusual in this collective context?  If so, then furthermore is that degree of collective weirdness likely to be attributable to climate change and should we therefore create a new category to describe it in the list of predicted climate trends.

Ultra rapid environmental changes stress all kinds of systems, from ecological and industrial to everyday things. I think it could be useful to know in advance if in the future, as the climate evolves, there is an increasing chance that, for instance, a 5 hour road trip in the US – not just in Texas - might require luggage comprising shorts, suntan lotion, winter coat, umbrella and cross country skis.

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By Eric Peterson (Front Royal, VA 22630)
on April 11th, 2013

Dave, the rapid drops in temperature are normal for Texas in spring.  There is plenty of warmth from the spring sun, but arctic air can spill south with nothing in the way to stop it.  See for example.  As for attribution, the lowering of the temperature gradient between the Arctic and lower latitudes will make this kind of even less common over time.  Also there is no connection to the Arctic ice since that is pretty much normal and extra heat from refreezing would disrupt weather in the fall, not spring.

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By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on April 11th, 2013

Thanks Eric.

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By Camburn
on April 13th, 2013

The pattern this spring is potentially the result of the sun pattern.
Two papers in the last two years have shown that Europe is experiencing much the same with the sun as the driver for this.

The low pattern of sunspots does not change the overall TSI much, but there have been huge changes in the light bands, which do affect the jet streams and the position of the Greenland high.

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