The Arctic air intrusion advertised by the weather models for this past weekend came to fruition and continues to hold its grip on Nebraska. Several pieces of energy swung through the state on the backside of the upper air trough responsible for this late winter surge. After a very active snow season from late December and January, the snowfall this past weekend pushed Lincoln into the number 15 position for seasonal snowfall.
The last time we experienced such a snowy pattern in Lincoln was February 2018, which was followed by severe flooding during Early March. If there is any good new to be found with this season’s snowfall accumulation, it can be found in the fact that soil temperatures in areas that carried snow cover prior to the Arctic air arrival remain unfrozen. This will lessen the risk of runoff given a quick warm up, but rivers and streams are likely to accumulate significant thickness before temperatures moderate the last third of the month, increasing the likelihood of ice jams regardless of runoff from snow melt.
The 2020-21 seasonal snowfall total through February 8th is currently ranks 15th snowiest since records began. With the GFS model indicating another strong polar surge arriving Thursday and Friday of this week, it appears that most of the state will see accumulating snowfall. In fact, there appears to be an elevated chance for widespread moderate to heavy accumulations from central Nebraska southward through most of Kansas. Snow to liquid water ratios are expected to be in the range of 20-30:1. Therefore, a quarter inch of melted moisture will produce 4-6 inches of accumulation.
The top 15 snowiest seasons (July-June) using all available stations within the Lincoln area:
Rank / Season / Total / Location
1 / 1880-81 / 81.8 / Lincoln Waste Water Plant
2 / 1964-65 / 62.0 / Agronomy Farm
3 / 1959-60 / 57.0 / Lincoln Air Force Base
4 / 2018-19 / 55.5 / Lincoln Airport
5 / 1914-15 / 53.6 / Lincoln University Farm
6 / 1947-48 / 53.2 / Lincoln College View
7 / 1970-71 / 52.5 / Lincoln College View
8 / 1948-49 / 50.6 / Lincoln University Campus
9 / 1931-32 / 48.4 / Lincoln University Farm
10 / 1983-84 / 47.5 / Lincoln Airport
11 / 1940-41 / 45.5 / Lincoln College View
12 / 1997-98 / 44.6 / Lincoln Airport
13 / 1939-40 / 44.5 / Lincoln College View
14 / 2009-10 / 43.5 / Lincoln Waste Water Plant
15 / 2020-21 / 42.7 / Lincoln Airport
If the forecast moisture materializes for the end of this week, it is likely that 2020-21 will move up into the top 10 snowiest seasons on record. Furthermore, the GFS model is indicating that the potential exists for the development of a late winter storm moving out of the western United States the final full week of the month. If these forecast events materialize, there is a good possibility that this year will end up as the second snowiest on record before the last snowflakes falls this spring. The 1880-81 record remains far out of reach, but there are serious questions concerning the validity of snow measurements given there were no standard measurement techniques are the time.
Al Dutcher, Agricultural Extension Climatologist, Nebraska State Climate Office