National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


The Winter Outbreak that occurred on Valentine's Week 2021 brought not only snow, sleet, and freezing rain to Southeast Texas, but also extreme cold temperatures that lasted for several days. This was one of the most impactful winter events in recent history that brought multiday road closures, power outages, loss of heat, broken pipes, and other societal impacts for the region. While the damage is still being assessed, this will likely go down as the first billion dollar disaster of 2021 globally, and potentially the most costly weather disaster for the state of Texas in history, surpassing even Hurricane Harvey from 2017.  


It all began Wednesday, February 10th when a cold front moved through the area bringing the first surge of cold air into the region. With this cold air in place, lingering precipitation the following day fell as sleet and freezing rain across the northwestern counties. The first Winter Weather Advisory of this prolonged winter event was issued in the morning hours of Thursday, February 11th for Burleson, Brazos, and Madison counties as area roads began to become hazardous from the icy precipitation. This Advisory would end up getting expanded to include Washington and Grimes counties after sunset that evening and continued through Friday morning due to lingering precipitation. While this first taste of winter precipitation was impacting the region, a stronger Arctic cold front was progressing through the country and was expected to reach Southeast Texas late Sunday. On Friday, February 12th, a Winter Storm Watch was issued for the entire region for Sunday in anticipation for the potential snow, sleet, and freezing rain that this Arctic front would bring. A Winter Storm Warning ended up getting issued on Saturday, February 13th for Colorado, Austin, Waller, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Polk counties and for counties north as sleet and freezing rain formed ahead of the approaching cold front. The counties that remained in the Winter Storm Watch (Jackson, Wharton, Fort Bend, Harris, and Liberty counties and the other counties along the coast) got upgraded to a Warning for Sunday. 


As expected, the strong Arctic cold front passed through Southeast Texas on Sunday (Valentine's Day). It served as the turning point from a significant winter storm the preceded the front to the historic winter event that would eventually unfold.

On Sunday, every square inch of Texas was in a Winter Storm Warning. Snow, sleet, and freezing rain began to encroach into Southeast Texas Sunday afternoon, and then increased in coverage and intensity overnight Sunday night into Monday. Thunder snow was reported near the town of Snook, Burleson County Sunday evening, and then thunder sleet occurred near the Brazoria and Galveston counties coastline Sunday night. Roads began to become impassable through the region Sunday evening due to ice and snow and some would not become safe until Friday. Temperatures crashed down Sunday night behind the cold front with much of the area getting down into the teens or single digits with wind chills down into the single digits or even below zero. Because of these conditions, a Hard Freeze Warning and a Wind Chill Warning (the first in our office's history) was in effect Sunday night/Monday morning. A combination of the icy conditions and extreme cold temperatures caused widespread power outages that would last for the next several days. The wintry precipitation continued through Monday morning with storm total snow/sleet accumulations being around trace along the coast, around an inch near the Houston Metro, and up to three to six inches up across the north. The extreme cold temperatures not just persisted through Tuesday morning, but dipped down even colder and produced the coldest morning of the event: the City of Houston went down to 13°F, Galveston down to 20°F, and College Station bottomed out at just 5°F. 


Unfortunately, the week wasn't done yet. Another winter storm was anticipated to bring significant freezing rain along and north of Interstate-10 Tuesday night requiring an additional Winter Storm Warning. This new ice accumulation, combined with any refreezing of previous moisture, continued the hazardous road conditions Tuesday evening through the day on Wednesday. Conditions did not improve Wednesday night as lingering precipitation brought snow and sleet to the northern half of the region that lasted through midday Thursday. While the wintry precipitation wound down Thursday evening, the dangerously cold temperatures and hazardous road conditions continued. It wasn't until 9am Saturday morning that the last Hard Freeze Warning would expire for this event.


There was a total of 8 days, 23 hours, and 23 minutes of winter highlights between the first Winter Weather Advisory issued on Thursday, February 11th at 9:37am to when the last Hard Freeze Warning expired at 9am on Saturday, February 20th. 


The winter outbreak in February 2021 will be on the minds of every Texan for a very long time.



Visible satellite imagery from February 15th, 2021
showing snow and ice cover over much of the state of Texas.
Visible satellite imagery from February 19th, 2021
showing snow and ice cover receding to the north.
Image Image
A look at the average temperatures from February 11th-17th The Great Plains Arctic Blast of 2021
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