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February, 2021 Storm Report
 
Short Weather Summary
 
It was a mild winter going into February, but it did not last. After a little snow and ice to begin the month, an historic Arctic blast led to numerous record cold temperatures from the 14th through the 21st. There was also one and a half to two feet of snow in central and southern Arkansas. Rapid warming melted the snow in a few days, and a heavy rain event and spotty severe weather finished the month.

 

Record Temperatures
 
There were numerous record low temperatures broken in February. Check out the records below.

 

Site Record Low (Date of Occurrence)
Batesville 11 (02/14), 5 (02/15), -5 (02/16), 11 (02/17), 9 (02/19), 16 (02/20)
El Dorado 6 (02/16), 7 (02/19), 15 (02/20)
Fayetteville 3 (02/14), -8 (02/15), -20 (02/16), -4 (02/19), 7 (02/20)
Fort Smith -1 (02/15), -8 (02/16)
Harrison -6 (02/15), -9 (02/16)
Hot Springs 15 (02/14), 10 (02/15), -3 (02/16), 16 (02/17), 8 (02/19), 14 (02/20)
Jacksonville 14 (02/14), 4 (02/15), -6 (02/16), 12 (02/17), 1 (02/19), 8 (02/20), 17 (02/21)
Jonesboro 5 (02/15), -2 (02/16), 0 (02/19), 3 (02/20)
Little Rock 7 (02/15), -1 (02/16), 9 (02/19), 9 (02/20), 16T (02/21)
Monticello 11 (02/15), 10 (02/16), 12 (02/19)
Mount Ida 4 (02/15), -4 (02/16)
North Little Rock 11 (02/14), 6 (02/15), -1 (02/16), 12T (02/17), 14T (02/19), 17 (02/20)
Pine Bluff 0 (02/16), 6 (02/19), 4 (02/20), 16 (02/21)
Russellville -9 (02/16), 13 (02/18), 5 (02/19)
Stuttgart 15 (02/14), 9 (02/15), -4 (02/16), 15 (02/17), 9 (02/18), 2 (02/19), 4 (02/20), 15 (02/21)
Texarkana 6 (02/15), -1 (02/16), 11 (02/19)
Note: "T" means record was tied.

 

Historic Arctic Blast/Heaviest Snow and Rain in Southern Arkansas
 
Seventy two hour snowfall through 600 pm CST on 02/02/2021.
In the picture: Seventy two hour snowfall through 600 pm CST on 02/02/2021.
 

There was a massive snowstorm to end January and begin February from the western Great Lakes to the Ohio Valley and New England. The heaviest snow (two feet or more) was in portions of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Nazareth, PA had 36.1 inches of snow, and Mount Arlington, NJ chimed in with 35.5 inches. As Arctic air oozed to the south, it was just a matter of time before snow would affect Arkansas.

 

Pileup in Iowa

On February 4th (just before noon CST), roughly 40 vehicles were involved in a pileup along a snow covered Interstate 80 near Newton, IA. There were multiple injuries.

 

The Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index switched from positive to negative in December, 2020. The negative phase continued into early February, 2021. When the AO Index is strongly negative, especially for more than a few weeks, this implies that low pressure toward the North Pole (or the Polar Vortex) is weakening, and westerlies that carry cold air across Canada are not as strong. The cold air builds up and has no place to go except into the United States.
In the picture: The Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index switched from positive to negative in December, 2020. The negative phase continued into early February, 2021. When the AO Index is strongly negative, especially for more than a few weeks, this implies that low pressure toward the North Pole (or the Polar Vortex) is weakening, and westerlies that carry cold air across Canada are not as strong. The cold air builds up and has no place to go except into the United States.
 

There were two factors that suggested it was eventually going to look a whole lot like winter around here. First, there was a long-term (more than two to three weeks) strongly negative Arctic Oscillation (AO) Index. This indicated that tropospheric low pressure (Polar Vortex) toward the North Pole was weakening, with frigid conditions bottled up in Canada and nowhere to go but here. Second, the Polar Vortex in the stratosphere (the next highest level in the Earth's atmosphere) rapidly declined in January. This was the straw that opened the floodgates and almost guaranteed tumbling temperatures.

 

 

In the picture: There was light snow on Highway 7 between Jasper and Deer (both in Newton County) on 02/06/2021. This caused some accidents, with motorists needing assistance from law enforcement. The photo is courtesy of Ozarks Weather via Twitter.
 

On the 6th, Arctic air was on the doorstep, but not quite here. A storm system from the southern Plains brought areas of rain into the region. Afternoon temperatures at most locations were in the 40s and 50s, with some 30s in the north and west. In the higher elevations of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, it was cold enough for some light snow, and it accumulated in places.

Mount Sherman (Newton County) had three inches of snow, with two to three inches just southeast of Jasper (Newton County), and two inches north of Bryan (Scott County), Mount Magazine (Logan County), Queen Wilhelmina State Park (Polk County), near Sand Gap (Pope County), and north and east of Witts Spring (Searcy County).

 

A storm system ("L") along the Gulf Coast spread precipitation into Arkansas early on 02/11/2021. Sleet and freezing rain were noted from central into eastern sections of the state. Rumbles of thunder accompanied the precipitation. Temperatures as of 300 am CST ranged the from the upper teens in the northwest to the upper 30s in the southwest.
In the picture: A storm system ("L") along the Gulf Coast spread precipitation into Arkansas early on 02/11/2021. Sleet and freezing rain were noted from central into eastern sections of the state. Rumbles of thunder accompanied the precipitation. Temperatures as of 300 am CST ranged the from the upper teens in the northwest to the upper 30s in the southwest.
 

The atmosphere continued to cool on the 10th, especially in the lowest 2,000 to 3,000 feet. Above the subfreezing layer, warmth and moisture increased as another storm system tracked along the Gulf Coast after dark and early on the 11th.

 

Shallow cold (mostly subfreezing) air was in place near the ground early on 02/11/2021, with much warmer conditions overhead (topping 50 degrees in places). This warm layer melted snow and changed it into rain. Once liquid reached cold air below, it became freezing rain and sleet.
In the picture: Shallow cold (mostly subfreezing) air was in place near the ground early on 02/11/2021, with much warmer conditions overhead (topping 50 degrees in places). This warm layer melted snow and changed it into rain. Once liquid reached cold air below, it became freezing rain and sleet.
 

Data collected by the National Weather Service (through balloon launches) confirmed that temperatures between 3,000 and 4,000 feet were around 50 degrees at 1100 pm CDT on the 10th. That meant snow would melt and then become freezing rain or sleet in colder air below.

 

In the video: Tarmac The Weather Cat played in a sleet covered parking lot at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) as dawn approached on 02/11/2021.
 

At least a half inch of sleet piled up southeast of Conway (Faulkner County), at Des Arc (Prairie County), the Little Rock Force Base (Pulaski County), Sherwood (Pulaski County), and near Vilonia (Faulkner County). Accruals of ice (due to freezing rain) were at least a quarter inch at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). There was an inch of snow southeast of Smithville (Lawrence County). 

Roads became hazardous from about Little Rock (Pulaski County) eastward. A semi truck jackknifed along Interstate 30 near Otter Creek (Pulaski County) during the morning of the 11th, and partially blocked the highway. There were some power outages, but nothing outrageous (less than 10,000 households). 

This situation could have been much worse, with a lot more freezing rain and buildup of ice. The presence of sleet and some snow kept freezing rain to a minimum, and spared trees and power lines of added weight (and damage).

 

Outside of Arkansas/Tragedy in Texas

More than 100,000 power outages due to ice occurred from Texas to West Virginia. The story of the event was a tragic 130 vehicle pileup on an icy Interstate 35W on the north side of Fort Worth, TX that began just after 600 am CST on the 11th. At least six fatalities resulted.

 

In the video: Arctic air and moisture came together to produce heavy snow across Arkansas on February 14-15, 2021. Frigid conditions were the result of a piece of the Polar Vortex (near the North Pole) breaking off and heading southward. Moisture was provided by a storm system riding an active Subtropical Jet across the southern United States.
 

Frigid conditions finally poured into Arkansas in mid-February. High temperatures in northern sections of the state were only in the single digits in places on the 14th. It was 9 degrees in Harrison (Boone County), for example. Across the remainder of the region, teens and 20s were common.

Storm systems continued to ride the Subtropical Jet across the southern United States. Two systems and a lot of snow were on the way through the 17th.

 

Winter weather headlines were posted for the deep south as of 315 pm CST on 02/14/2021.
In the picture: Winter weather headlines were posted for the deep south as of 315 pm CST on 02/14/2021.
 

Prior to the arrival of system number one, Winter Storm Warnings were in effect for the whole state on the 14th. Even more alarming/impressive was the fact that similar warnings were posted in Texas to the Rio Grande River! This very rare situation (wintry precipitation and cold) put stress on the power grid in the Lone Star State, knocking out electricity to more than four million homes. 

Snow really got going locally during the wee hours of the 15th, and was heaviest from southwest into central and northeast Arkansas. This was a fluffy/powdery snow, and accumulated quickly (more than ten inches at some locales). Close to eleven inches of snow was measured at Greers Ferry (Cleburne County), the North Little Rock Airport (Pulaski County), Perryville (Perry County), and near Vilonia (Faulkner County). Eight to ten inch totals were reported at Cabot (Lonoke County), Daisy (Pike County), Fairfield Bay (Van Buren County), Greenbrier (Faulkner County), Hot Springs (Garland County), Little Rock and Maumelle (both in Pulaski County), Mountain Home (Baxter County), south of Mount Ida (Montgomery County), Paron (Saline County), and Pearcy (Garland County).

Little Rock (Pulaski County) had an event total of 8.4 inches. This ended a more than three year snow drought, with the last inch of snow on January 15, 2018.

 

Subfreezing temperatures were noted all the way into south Texas as of 200 pm CST on 02/15/2021. Readings were below zero as far south as Kansas and Missouri.
In the picture: Subfreezing temperatures were noted all the way into south Texas as of 200 pm CST on 02/15/2021. Readings were below zero as far south as Kansas and Missouri.
 

It was even colder on the 15th. High temperatures were mostly in the single digits and teens. It was 4 degrees at Fayetteville (Washington County), Harrison (Boone County), and Highfill (Benton County), and 6 degrees at Mountain Home (Baxter County). At noon CST, given a north to northwest wind at 10 to 15 mph (and higher gusts), wind chill index readings ranged from zero to twenty below zero in northern and central sections, and a few degrees above zero in the south. While snow tapered off in the afternoon (there were leftover flurries), clouds hung around the bulk of the day.

There was clearing after dark, especially in the northwest. With snow cover, the mercury plummeted. The 16th started with well below zero readings in the northwest. It was -20 degrees at Fayetteville (Washington County)! Going back through records (using information from the experimental station on the north side of town), it was comparably cold on the morning of February 10, 2011. Otherwise, it had not been this much below zero since 1930. At Highfill (Benton County), it was -13 degrees, with -9 degrees at Harrison (Boone County) and Russellville (Pope County), and -8 degrees at De Queen (Sevier County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Little Rock (Pulaski County) had -1 degree, which was the lowest reading since December 23, 1989.

 

Severe Weather in the Southeast United States

This time of year, there is often severe weather (where it is mild) when snow/ice is ongoing (where it is cold). In this case, severe storms affected the Florida Gulf Coast to the mid-Atlantic states. One storm cranked out hurricane force winds (up to 80 mph) at Panama City Beach, FL during the afternoon of the 15th. Embedded in the swath of straight-line winds, a weak tornado (rated EF0/85 mph peak winds) was also confirmed. Roofs were blown off and fences were flattened. During the late evening, a strong tornado (rated EF3/160 mph peak winds) hit 35 miles southwest of Wilmington, NC (close to the Ocean Isle Beach, NC community). Dozens of homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. There were at least three fatalities

 

Estimated snowfall and liquid precipitation for the events (two of them) on February 14-18, 2021.
Estimated Snow Totals (Feb 14-15)  |  Estimated Snow Totals (Feb 17-18)
Estimated Snow Totals (Feb 14-18)  |  Liquid Precipitation (Feb 14-18)
In the pictures: Estimated snowfall and liquid precipitation for the events (two of them) on February 14-18, 2021.
 

Before you blinked, along came system number two. Snow spread across the north/west from the late evening of the 16th into the predawn hours of the 17th. For the remainder of the 17th, central/southern Arkansas got in on the action, and it went nuts from Little Rock (Pulaski County) southward.

Incredibly, about fifteen inches of snow was unleashed near Sheridan (Grant County), with thirteen inches at Malvern (Hot Spring County) and Sulphur Springs (Jefferson County), and about a foot at Gurdon (Clark County), Hope (Hempstead County), and Prescott (Nevada County). Through social media, quite a few pictures were posted of tape measures and rulers penetrating through at least twenty inches of snow (the result of two storms) in yards across the south.

 

In the video: A line of vehicles (mostly trucks) was parked along Interstate 40 heading west near Biscoe (Prairie County) during the afternoon of 02/17/2021. The video is courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Transportation via Twitter.
 

There was way too much snow along Interstate 40 near Biscoe (Prairie County). Multiple accidents led to a line of traffic miles long in the westbound lanes that sat for sixteen hours. People were forced to spend the night on the road.

This time around, Little Rock (Pulaski County) was buried with 11.8 inches of snow. At least forty flights into the airport were cancelled on the 17th, and the facility closed during the evening.

 

Top ten snowiest lists (days, twenty four hours, years, months, and depth) at Little Rock (Pulaski County).
Little Rock Snowiest Records (Days/24 Hours)
Little Rock Snowiest Records (Years/Months/Snow Depth)
In the pictures: Top ten snowiest lists (days, twenty four hours, years, months, and depth) at Little Rock (Pulaski County).
 

Historically, the 17th was the second snowiest day on record at Little Rock (Pulaski County) going back to the late 1800s (in the top spot was 12.0 inches on March 6, 1875). The February tally of 20.3 inches was more than any other month (topping 20.0 inches in January, 1918), and made 2020 the third snowiest year (a foot less than the 32.6 inch record in 1960). The snow depth on the morning of the 18th was 15 inches, which was tied for first place in the record book (with January 21, 1918).

 

 

There was enough water to worry about the weight of the snow stressing the roofs of some structures. On the 18th, part of the roof of a volunteer fire department caved in just northeast of Rison (Cleveland County). At Crossett (Ashley County), a bowling alley roof collapsed, and roofs were compromised at a packaging plant and a church. Some of this was attributed to a lot of sleet. Frozen pipes are a common concern in winter, and this became a huge problem in Mayflower (Faulkner County). Supply lines burst, and the city ran out of water. As a safeguard, many folks in central Arkansas were asked to conserve water as pipes thawed out and were subject to pressure breaks. Residents in cities such as Benton (Saline County), Hot Springs (Garland County), and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) were urged to cut down on water usage due to a critically low supply. During the evening of the 18th, accidents along Interstate 30 led to tie ups between Benton (Saline County) and Malvern (Hot Spring County).

 

Big Time Water Shortage

Burst pipes and non-functioning water treatment plants (due to power outages) left nearly half of Texas (fourteen million people) without clean running water. Dry water taps in homes and a shortage of bottled water forced some people to boil snow for drinking or flushing toilets. In most major cities in the state, boil orders were in effect where water was available.

It was the same story for most folks in Jackson, MS. An aging infrastructure and brittle pipes were no match for well below freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. Water was not deemed safe and had to be boiled weeks after winter's wrath was over.

 

In the video: Here are aerial views of a snow covered Little Rock (Pulaski County) on 02/18/2021. The video is courtesy of Charles Peek via Twitter.
 

Once system number two departed, the records kept on coming. On the morning of the 19th, many places had low temperatures in the single digits, which was well under normal lows in the upper 20s to upper 30s. Sure, these lows had been experienced in the past, but earlier in the winter. It was 2 degrees at Stuttgart (Arkansas County), 5 degrees at Russellville (Pope County), 6 degrees at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), 7 degrees at El Dorado (Union County), and 9 degrees at Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Texarkana (Miller County). At these and other sites, data shows it had never been this cold so late in the year.

Record late lows were extended another day (on the 20th) as a deep snow pack continued to promote cooling. The thermometer showed 9 degrees at Little Rock (Pulaski County), 4 degrees at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and 4 degrees at Stuttgart (Arkansas County).   

Here's one more eyebrow raiser. Just after 300 pm CST on the 19th at Little Rock (Pulaski County), the temperature hit 33 degrees after staying at or below freezing for a lengthy 210 consecutive hours (since 830 pm CST on the 10th). This string of bone chilling hours was the third longest (and short of the 308 hour record from December 18-31, 1983).

With all of this cold, it's no wonder that monthly temperatures were six to more than ten degrees below average. It completely turned around an otherwise mild winter. Statewide temperatures in December, 2020 and January, 2021 were 1.7 degrees above average.

 

Departure From Average Temperatures in February, 2021
Site Average Temperature Departure (+/-)
Fayetteville (NW AR) 31.3° -8.5°
Harrison (NC AR) 30.4° -10.1°
Jonesboro (NE AR) 32.4° -9.1°
Fort Smith (WC AR) 35.7° -8.5°
Little Rock (C AR) 36.0° -8.8°
West Memphis (EC AR) 34.5° -8.2°
Texarkana (SW AR) 42.8° -5.5°
El Dorado (SC AR) 40.2° -7.6°
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 35.8° -10.3°

 

Record cold low temperatures were experienced on 02/16/2021, with below zero readings at many locations in Arkansas. A week later, highs were in the 60s and 70s.
Low Temperatures (02/16)  |  High Temperatures (02/23)
In the pictures: Record cold low temperatures were experienced on 02/16/2021, with below zero readings at many locations in Arkansas. A week later, highs were in the 60s and 70s.
 

After a ridiculously (and dangerously) cold period in mid-February, the pattern did an about-face and it was spring all of a sudden. Below zero temperatures on the morning of the 16th were in the 60s and 70s a week later. Deep snow in parts of Arkansas was gone, and we were looking at good chances of rain as the month came to an end.

A cold front swept through the region from the northwest on the 24th, and eventually parked to the south. It was slightly cooler behind the front (50s/60s) on the afternoon of the 25th. As the day progressed, a storm system arrived from the southwest and interacted with the front. This sparked areas of rain and rumbles of thunder.

 

The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed widespread rain and embedded thunderstorms over Arkansas from the late afternoon of 02/25/2021 into the next morning.
Radar at 500 pm CST (02/25)  |  Radar at 700 pm CST (02/25)
Radar at 900 pm CST (02/25)  |  Radar at 1100 pm CST (02/25)
Radar at 100 am CST (02/26)  |  Radar at 300 am CST (02/25)
Radar at 500 am CST (02/26)  |  Radar at 700 am CST (02/26)
Loop
In the pictures: The WSR-88D (Doppler Weather Radar) showed widespread rain and embedded thunderstorms over Arkansas from the late afternoon of 02/25/2021 into the next morning.
 

Precipitation was the most widespread in central and southern Arkansas after dark on the 25th and into the morning of the 26th. In the next couple of days, the front moved back to the north and it warmed up again. The transition to warmer air (and increasing moisture) led to a lot of fog and visibilities less than a half mile.

 

Severe weather and flood headlines were noted from northeast Texas through Arkansas into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys during the late afternoon of 02/28/2021.
In the picture: Severe weather and flood headlines were noted from northeast Texas through Arkansas into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys during the late afternoon of 02/28/2021.
 

By the 28th, thermometers were in the mid to upper 70s across the central and southern counties. It was 77 degrees at El Dorado (Union County) and Texarkana (Miller County), and 76 degrees at Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Monticello (Drew County). It certainly felt like spring, and thunderstorms were back in the forecast.

Storms were sparked by a new cold front that penetrated into northwest Arkansas by lunchtime on the 28th, and approached the Louisiana border toward evening. Along the way, downpours were widespread, and there was at least a concern for severe weather (damaging winds, large hail, and maybe a tornado or two).

In the end, this was mainly a heavy rain event. Roads were flooded in Malvern (Hot Spring County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Sheridan (Grant County). Severe storms were few, with trees blown down at Greenbrier (Faulkner County) and Olmstead (Pulaski County), and nickel size hail just west of Wooster (Faulkner County).

Just north of Vivian, LA, a brief weak tornado (rated EF1) was spawned around 615 pm CST on the 28th. The tornado caused mainly tree damage before dissipating.

 

Flooding in Eastern Kentucky

It was a bad situation in Kentucky. Three to more than six inches of rain caused widespread flooding in the southeast by March 1st. Several tributaries overflowed their banks, including a near record high Kentucky River. Water flowed into homes and businesses, with evacuations ordered in Beattyville, KY, Jackson, KY, and Salyersville, KY. Water was everywhere at Beattyville, KY, and the only way to get around was by boat. At Jackson, KY, officials were worried about a possible earthen dam failure on Panbowl Lake. Motorists had to be rescued from stalled vehicles. Disaster declarations were made in at least a dozen counties.

 

Rainfall in a four day period ending at 600 am CST on 03/01/2021. Three to more than five inch amounts were common in the southeast half of Arkansas, with less than an inch in the northwest.
In the picture: Rainfall in a four day period ending at 600 am CST on 03/01/2021. Three to more than five inch amounts were common in the southeast half of Arkansas, with less than an inch in the northwest.
 

From the 25th through early on March 1st, the southeast half of Arkansas received three to more than five inches of rain. This is also where the heaviest snow piled up from the 14th through the 17th. February precipitation totals were one to more than three inches above average.

 

Precipitation in February, 2021
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 0.97 2.81 -1.84 35%
Harrison (NC AR) 1.72 2.64 -0.92 65%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 4.89 3.72 +1.17 131%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 1.32 2.76 -1.44 48%
Little Rock (C AR) 5.02 3.66 +1.36 137%
West Memphis (EC AR) 5.05 4.45 +0.60 113%
Texarkana (SW AR) 5.09 3.99 +1.10 128%
El Dorado (SC AR) 5.64 4.79 +0.85 118%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 6.33 4.06 +2.27 156%

 

In the northwest, less than an inch of rain fell, and the month ended drier than usual (by one to two inches) in this part of the state.

 

Minor to moderate flooding occurred along portions of the Black, Cache, Ouachita, and lower White Rivers on 03/04/2021.
In the picture: Minor to moderate flooding occurred along portions of the Black, Cache, Ouachita, and lower White Rivers on 03/04/2021.
 

Tributaries in the south/east responded by going up in early March. There was minor to moderate flooding along the Black, Cache, Ouachita, and lower White Rivers. The Ouachita River was ten feet above flood stage at Camden (Ouachita County) and Thatcher Lock and Dam (Union County).  

 

Links of Interest
February 6-7, 2021 (light snow/turning colder)
February 10-11, 2021 (wintry precipitation/cold)
February 14-20, 2021 (two heavy snows/Arctic cold)
February 25-March 1, 2021 (heavy rain/isolated severe storms)

 

Additional February Details
 
For more details about February, 2021...go to the "Temperatures and Precipitation" section below.

 

Temperatures and Precipitation
Temperatures were well below normal in February. Readings at North Little Rock (Pulaski County) are shown to right. February, 2021 Temperatures in North Little Rock

 

February, 2021 Precipitation in North Little Rock Precipitation was below average in northern Arkansas, and at or above average farther south. Amounts at North Little Rock (Pulaski County) are shown to left.

 

To right, a look at precipitation across the state. February, 2021 Precipitation in Arkansas

 

For a look at actual temperatures and precipitation in Arkansas as measured by the cooperative observer network, click here.