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The Winter Storm of February 8-9, 2011

Fresh on the heels of the record-setting blizzard that occurred from January 31-February 1, 2011, another significant winter storm affected the southern Plains. Snowfall totals reached a foot over parts of northern Oklahoma, with widespread totals of 4 to 8 inches over the northern 2/3 of Oklahoma. Like the last winter storm, this storm affected several states, although this storm remained further to the south as it moved from Colorado and New Mexico, east into the southeastern United States.

National Weather Conditions during the early morning of February 8, 2011

A 1042 mb surface high pressure developed south out of Canada into Kansas early on February 8th behind a cold front that finally moved into northern Oklahoma during the late morning and early afternoon hours. Behind the arctic front were very cold temperatures, with temperatures falling into the single digits, and even sub-zero readings across many areas of the northern and central Plains (sub-zero temperatures would soon overspread much of Oklahoma). Precipitation, some of it heavy, developed behind the front as a strong low-level jet transported relatively warm and more moist air north over-top of the front. Snowfall totals north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border totaled 6 to 10 inches, with northerly surface winds gusting over 30 mph.

During the day, the cold front made substantially more southward progress over the Texas panhandle into western Oklahoma, with additional heavy snow accumulations developing behind the boundary by late afternoon. Additional support for precipitation development had developed ahead of a potent mid-level disturbance that moved southeastward toward Oklahoma. Normally, progressive storm systems, such as this one (open waves), are not big snow producers over the southern Plains. However, with strong warm advection and very cold temperatures at the surface and aloft (and getting colder through the event), the snow growth was maximized, which in turn caused moderate to heavy snowfall to occur.

National Weather Conditions during the mid afternoon of February 8, 2011

By mid evening of February 8th, the main snow band had developed over northern Oklahoma, with moderate to heavy snowfall occurring over the northern two or three tiers of counties for several hours. Here, widespread totals of 8 to 12 inches of snow were reported, with even higher totals toward northeast Oklahoma. Further to the south, an area of moderate to heavy snowfall progressed east, but started a little later and did not last near as long. This included the Oklahoma City metro, although Will Rogers World Airport still managed to pick up almost 6 inches of snow. Even further south toward the Red River, lighter totals of 2 to 4 inches occurred due to the even later onset and quicker progression of the precipitation.

Storm Total Snowfall Amount Map for the February 8-9, 2011 Winter Storm

In addition to the snowfall, a strong pressure gradient created very gusty winds behind the front. The strongest winds were reported over western Oklahoma, as pressure rises were maximized behind the quickly moving cold front. Gusts to almost 50 mph created wind chill values well below zero as temperatures fell into the lower teens, which also caused considerable blowing and drifting snow. Farther north and east, blowing and drifting snow also became a significant issue, even with slightly lower wind speeds. Wind gusts over 30 mph were reported at times, with visibilities falling to an 1/8 of a mile at times in the heavier snow bands.

Looking back, this storm was well forecast by models, which were remarkably consistent in painting a significant winter storm over the area. As a result, forecaster confidence was high enough that a Winter Storm Watch was issued well in advance of the storm (5:30 pm on 6th). Snowfall totals over 4 to 8 inches of snow, which covered a large area of Oklahoma into western north Texas. Further confidence the next day resulted in the Watch being upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning over our Oklahoma counties. The next day, the Warning was expanded to cover all but 2 counties in the NWS Norman County Warning Area (CWA).

With the advanced preparation and coordination leading up to the event, hundreds of schools and businesses closed on the 9th, which kept local traffic to a relative minimum. However, even with the images of the recent blizzard fresh in everyone’s mind, there were still several accidents/injuries associated with this storm. Around 240 injuries statewide were reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, with 33 injuries associated with around 84 automobile accidents. And, like last storm, there were fatalities (2) with this storm as compared to 4 deaths with the January 31-February 1, 2011 winter storm.

The storm added to the already impressive seasonal snowfall totals across Oklahoma and western north Texas. Oklahoma City has already surpassed the previous snowfall record for February, and was 8th on the list for snowiest seasons. What makes this even more impressive is that over a 10-day period, two snow storms had deposited over 18 inches of snow at Will Rogers World Airport. The deep accumulations, which should slowly melt into the soil instead of washing off, will also help (slightly) with the ongoing drought that had developed over the last several months.

However, even though the storm had passed, ill effects from it continued during the early to mid morning hours of the February 10th. A deep snow pack, combined with clear skies and light surface winds produced very cold temperatures. Keeping with the theme of extremes during winter of 2010-2011, the low temperatures on the 10th were nothing short of frigid, and numerous sites set record low temperatures, including the all-time record low temperature for Oklahoma! By 10 pm on the 9th, some locations over northern Oklahoma were below -10 degrees. And by 7:30 am on the 10th, a wide area of -10 to -15 degrees was reported over the northern third of Oklahoma. A few of those sites were even below -20 degrees. Nowata broke the all-time low record for Oklahoma, falling to -31 degrees. The 2nd lowest were Pryor and Bartlesville ASOS site, also in northeastern Oklahoma, which both fell to -28 degrees. A complete list of low temperature records for February 10th in the NWS Norman CWA is available here. Oklahoma City also fell below zero, reaching -5 degrees around 7:00 am. This broke the previous record of 4 degrees reached in 1929. Wichita Falls, TX reached their record low temperature, although they remained slightly above zero. The temperature of 3 degrees broke the previous record of 5 degrees set in 1980.


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