National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

May 24th Severe Weather and Dust Storm

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Monday evening on January 31, 2011, a very strong cold front made its way across Southwest Texas bringing cold arctic air into the region. Highs were in the low 70s across the Permian Basin Monday afternoon but by nightfall the area was beginning to feel the full magnitude of the front. By 8pm winds behind the front were sustained at 35 mph and gusting up to 40 mph. 

Temperatures dropped dramatically in Midland, Texas behind the front with a low of 12 degrees and a high of 29 on February 1, 2011.   On Tuesday and Wednesday, colder air surged southward as the front drew further south across west Texas and temperature records were broken all across southwest Texas and New Mexico.    

The previous records were set in Midland, Texas back in 1956 for the highs, and in 1972 and 1989, for the record low temperatures.   The record low highs were broken on February 2, 2011 with a high of 14 (with the old record being 20 set in 1956) and on February 3, 2011 with a high of 18 degrees (with the old record being 23 set in 1956). The record lows were broken on February 3, 2011 with a low of 9 (the old record was 10, set in 1972) and on February 4, 2011 with a low of 7 degrees (with the old record being 8 set on 1989). 

The records that were broken during the month of February 2011 were set under some very unusual circumstances.   A combination of very cold arctic air, strong winds, and snow accumulations on the ground helped produce these record highs and lows. Midland is well known for its wind, but is not normally associated with cold.   This event was different because there were overcast skies present and strong winds throughout the passing of the front. Clouds at night typically keep heating from the day trapped within the layer right above surface keeping temperatures slightly elevated through the overnight hours.   However, with strong winds at night this took away this affect allowing for this warmth by the daytime heating to be dissolved. The combination of the clouds and strong winds lead to colder than normal temperatures during the late evening hours. Snow accumulations on the ground also had a direct effect on the temperatures. The earth’s surface without snow can take in heat during the day even with the presence of clouds, allowing for warmer ground temperatures at night. A surface completely covered in snow will prevent any heat from being trapped which would help cool off temperatures. 

Very cold air, strong winds, cloud cover, and snow cover all had to come together to help break the previous temperature records. The reason why this event was special was due to extremely dangerous wind chill values that extended across southwest Texas and New Mexico.  This was a direct effect from the strong winds. Since 1994 no wind chill advisories or warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service in Midland. A wind chill advisory consists of wind chill values of -5 to -14 degrees below zero. A wind chill warning consists of wind chill values of -15 degrees and below.  If not taken seriously, this can cause significant health issues. February 1-4 2011 was truly an extra ordinary event.