After a month of January without a significant cold air outbreak, it appears Mother Nature is trying to make up for lost time with the current Arctic air cold wave. This has actually been fairly typical over the past few years; winter starts out mild in December and January before the bottom drops out in February.
A cold front that went through the central United States last week was the precursor, but the coldest air of the season occurred in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest with another system this past weekend. It has not become widespread just yet. The frontal boundary from the weekend stalled over the middle of the country. Temperatures to the south of it have been quite mild, in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit during the afternoons.
With all the movement the polar vortex has done, it has yet to penetrate the southern tier of the U.S. But there are a multitude of storm systems along the southern end of the jet stream. Each disturbance will produce a storm system that moves into the West and nearly dissipates before redeveloping near the Gulf Coast and moving east-northeast, pushing the front further south or keeping it there.
Of particular note is a cold front slated to develop this coming weekend. This will pull down even more cold Arctic air into the north, and push the front into the Gulf of Mexico so that most of the country east of the Rockies will be feeling the bitter cold. Average temperatures across the Plains and Midwest are forecast to be 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below normal Feb. 13-15. High temperatures are unlikely to rise into positive territory for a good portion of the northern tier. Temperatures are expected to moderate after that but still remain below normal through at least Feb. 19.
Low temperatures will likely fall below zero while high temperatures may not make it into the 10s Fahrenheit for much of the Plains or Midwest, including winter wheat areas. For areas that are exposed, mostly in the southwest Plains and far southern Midwest, there will be increased risk for winterkill.
Even light winds will create dangerous wind chills, increasing stress to livestock and newborn calves and lambs. Increased inputs will be required to stave off some of this stress, coming at a time when fuel prices are increasing and grain prices remain at elevated values. Producers will likely feel this Arctic outbreak a bit more than previous years.
Models are mixed about the prospects for remaining below normal after Feb. 19, but at least there is some end to the incredibly cold conditions for a little while.
Forecast models do suggest that another push of Arctic air may be on its way to close out the month and start March as well, but that is expected to occur mostly over the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest as opposed to the majority of the country.
John Baranick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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