Monday, March 09, 2015

TOP STORY >> Winter weather was brrr...

Leader staff writer

Weather-wise, winter ended the last day of February, but based on the wintry mix that hit the area Wednesday and Thursday, Arkansas didn’t get the message.

This last wave, the third in three weeks, closed area schools for two days (Thursday and Friday) and shut down most government operations Thursday.

It started Wednesday with rain that turned to freezing rain then turned to sleet and finally snow around midnight. It dumped about 6 inches of ice and snow in the area.

By Thursday morning, many sections of I-30 and I-40 as well as parts of Hwy. 67/167 were impassable because of the ice and snow or because of accidents blocking the roadways.

More than 1,000 18-wheelers were stranded for 24 hours or more between North Little Rock and Lonoke because of the weather and accidents.

One FedEx driver, who said Thursday it took him more than eight hours to get from Memphis to Little Rock, said I-40 around Lonoke was littered with accidents and trucks were stopped for miles.

The good news is the winter weather seems to be over, according to the National Weather Service, as the temperatures are expected to be closer to the average highs of 60 degrees next week.

The recent storm caused most area cities to be a day behind in garbage pickup. Numerous government meetings were canceled, including the Jacksonville City Council.

Cabot District Court session was canceled Thursday and has been rescheduled to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 26.

The early March storm capped a rollercoaster February that ended very cold and snowy.

February turned out to be one of the coldest on record, bringing what started as a warm winter to a colder-than- normal finish.

High temperatures for the first two weeks of February were mostly above average, hitting the lower 70s on Valentine’s Day. But the temperature dropped 50 degrees within 24 hours, landing at 22 degrees.

Colder-than-average temperatures continued through the remainder of the month, making February the coldest February in more than 30 years.

The average high temperature was the fifth coldest on record and the average low was the coldest since 1979, making it the second coldest on record.

Overall in February, the average high temperature was nine degrees below the 30-year average, and the low temperature was 8.4 degrees off the mark.

Twenty-one of February’s 28 days had temperatures below normal.

It was a winter of opposites as the average high temperature for the season was the coldest in four years, but the average low temperature was the warmest in the past two years.

The winter season — Dec. 1, 2014 through Feb. 28 — started out slightly warmer, but with a long February cold snap, the winter season finished one degree colder than the 30-year average, according to National Weather Service records.

Even though schools have already lost five to six days of education because of snow and ice, precipitation for the winter was actually less than normal, even though snowfall was above average.

As a general rule, it takes 10 inches of snow to equal one inch of precipitation.

For the seventh-consecutive winter there was measurable snow, and it all fell in February. It was the third winter in a row that snowfall was above average.

The coldest day of the winter was Jan. 8 when the temperature only hit 10 degrees.

But the coldest span, based on departure from the normal temperature, was the last two weeks of February, according to the NWS.

Although it may have seemed like more, just 42 days were at or below freezing, and two days saw temperatures of 70 degrees or higher.

Record temperatures set during February include 22 degrees on the 15th, tying a low temperature set in 2007 and 1986. On the 16th, the high temperature only hit 27 degrees, tying a record set in 1980 and 1979.

A high temperature of 30 degrees on Feb. 23 broke the cold record high of 33 degrees originally set in 1989. The low temperature of 23 degrees on the 28th was the coldest finish of the month since 2002.

Four snowfall records were set during the month. On Feb. 16, the area received 0.8 inches of snow, breaking a 36-year record for that date. The 0.8 inches on the 22nd, the 1.3 inches on the 23rd and a trace on the 27th were all record-setting snowfalls for those dates.

The weather service forecasts a warm weekend and next week looks to be sunny and in the 50s and 60s. Roads should be clear today.