February in the West
Temperatures were below to well below normal throughout the entire west except for a small region from northeast Nevada to northern Utah and a few other isolated pockets. The month began with record setting cold from Montana to New Mexico. A stretch of mild weather prevailed for a week mid month before another very cold episode the final week. Many locations in the region were up to 5 degrees F (2.8 C) below normal while some locations in Montana were 10 degrees F (5.8 C) below normal for the month. Some cities in Southern California recorded their coldest February in over 30 years. Santa Barbara had their third coldest February on record dating back 70 years. Great Falls, MT, measured their coldest February in 22 years. Some cities in the southwest recorded their lowest all time February temperatures early in the month (see below).
Precipitation was below normal for most of the west except for isolated pockets in the intermountain region. Great Falls’ extreme month continued with their second wettest and first snowiest February in 119 years and third all time snowiest month. The only other record setting precipitation occurred in the far north where Fairbanks, AK, measured their second wettest and second snowiest February on record. Barrow also had their third wettest and second snowiest February ever.
Thanks to a stormy second half of the month mountain snowpack was mostly above normal on March 1st except for some areas of the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest, although the precipitation totals in the higher elevations of the Northwest are actually above normal.
Significant Events for February 2011
February 1-4: Record Cold in Southwest. The extreme cold that settled in the Southwest during the first few days of the month set numerous records and caused widespread damage. It was estimated that in El Paso, TX, over 15,000 pipes broke with damage at over $50 million. Albuquerque recorded their lowest February maximum temperature (and second lowest ever) with 9 F (-12.8 C) on the 2nd. The minimum of -7 F (-21.7 C) was the second coldest February temperature on record. In Douglas, AZ, a minimum of 0 F (-17.8 C) on the 4th set an all time February mark and only the third time in history the city has reached 0 F (-17.8 C). Tucson’s low of 18 F (-7.8 C) on the 3rd and 4th was not only their coldest February temperature on record but only 2 degrees F (1.1 C) from their all time low. Roswell, NM, hit -11 F (-23.9 C) on the 4th, which was the coldest February temperature since 1933 and coldest for any month since 1966. Laramie, WY, hit a new February low of -39 F (-39.4 C) on the 2nd as well dating back to 1948. Roughly 32,000 residents in New Mexico and 14,000 in Arizona had no natural gas on the 4th due to shortages brought on by the extreme cold.
February 23-27: More Cold and Snow. A cold and powerful system affected nearly the entire west. The Seattle area had up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) of snow on the 23rd with wind chills in Montana as low as -50 F (-45.5 C) on the 25th. Cut Bank, MT, hit -35 F (-37.3 C) on the 25th and was the coldest temperature ever recorded for so late in the season. This system produced rare snow in Tucson, AZ, and the hills of the Bay Area in California.
February 26: Strong winds along Coastal Alaska. Strong offshore winds produced wind gusts of near 95 mph near Valdez, AK, causing flying debris to shatter car windows and siding being blow off buildings. The Port of Valdez was closed on the 27th as oil tankers had to be held in protected areas of the Prince William Sound. At Thompson Pass 100 mph winds produced blizzard conditions that forced the closure of the Richardson Highway, the only road out of or into Valdez.
February 2011 Departure from Normal Temperature and Percent of Normal Precipitation for Western United States