COLUMBIA, Mo. – February may go into the records as the coldest in 35 years, says Pat Guinan, state climatologist at the University of Missouri.
“December and January were cold. February was colder,” Guinan says. Temperatures ran 12 degrees Fahrenheit below normal in northern Missouri and 9 degrees colder in the south.
Preliminary data indicate a state average of 25 F, which is 9 degrees below normal. “That’s colder than February 1989. If confirmed it will be the coldest February since 1979, which was brutally cold,” he says.
This winter could rank ninth coldest.
Usually Guinan waits until all reports are in before issuing his monthly report. This year, with polar air entrenched over the Midwest, he gave his update on Feb. 28. The day is called “meteorological end of winter.”
In spite of the cold, some weather stations set record high temperatures on Feb. 20. “Weather volatility remains with us,” Guinan said. “We had winter thunderstorms.”
Cold weather presents challenges to outdoor workers, livestock farmers and homeowners. Towns and cities have exhausted snow and ice removal budgets.
Forecasts show March coming in unlike any lion seen in years, Guinan says.
Usually March ranks as windiest month in Missouri. This year strong winds persisted in February. Many locations had wind gusts of 50 mph, with some up to 60 mph.
“The winds are unrelenting,” Guinan says. Wind chill increases stress on outdoor workers, exposed livestock and pets.
Overall, February precipitation averaged below normal. Preliminary data shows a state average of 1.3 inches of precipitation, about three-fourths of an inch below normal.
Prolonged cold gives far-reaching impacts. Livestock producers struggle with chopping ice on ponds and thawing waterers. “It’s difficult to feed enough hay,” he adds.
With hazardous driving conditions, authorities urged no-driving days on many roads.
Wind and cold increased energy consumption. “Consumers face unusually high heating bills. In addition, they have more frozen water pipes.” Broken pipes affected many community water suppliers. The long-term cold extended soil frost lines deeper than seen in decades, Guinan says. Frozen ground slows water absorption when rains return.
So, far frozen ground hastened refilling of farm ponds and lakes in dry northern counties.
While there has been more snow than usual, precipitation totals run below average across an expanding area of Missouri. Northern Missouri, which rated abnormally dry, saw relief with the snow.
However, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the dry area pushing into southern Missouri.
The mini heat wave on Feb. 20 caused temperatures to top at 72 F in Columbia and 75 F in West Plains. Those were historic highs.
As climatologist with the MU Extension Commercial Agriculture Program, Guinan maintains automated weather stations across the state. Most are on research centers of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Those stations provide local updates for area farmers.