- Average temperatures rise in February and daylight increases as spring approaches.
- However, in some areas, February is the snowiest month.
- The contrast between winter and spring also increases the risk of severe weather events.
February brings a variety of weather conditions, including snow, tornadoes and big temperature changes, as signs of spring begin to appear for some.
Even though wintry weather dominates the month, the increase in daylight becomes more noticeable and a reminder that spring is coming.
Powerful systems can bring heavy snow, rain
Snow is still piling up in February, which is the snowiest month of the year in some places, including Tahoe City in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, where around 41 inches typically fall during the month.
Many major northeast snowstorms occur in February. It’s the snowiest month in New York City (average 10.1 inches) and Washington DC (5 inches), while it’s the second snowiest month in Boston (14.4 inches). In February 2015, Boston totaled 64.8 inches, making it the snowiest month on record and a big reason the city set its record for snowiest season that year.
Although Dallas and Seattle don’t get much snowfall, February is the snowiest month in both cities. Dallas measured 13.5 inches in February 1978, while the snowiest February in Seattle was 1916, when 35.4 inches of snow fell.
Numerous records have been set for the snowiest February 2019 month in Minneapolis/St. Paul broke his snowiest February record by more than a foot, totaling 39 inches of snow. Eau Claire, Wis., picked up 53.7 inches in February 2019, nearly doubling its previous high for the month.
In late February 2019, winter storm Quiana brought snow to Las Vegas for the first time in over 10 years and set an all-time record snowfall in Flagstaff, Arizona. As this system moved eastward, blizzard conditions were reported in parts of the Plains and upper Midwest.
No place was snowier in February 2019 than California’s Sierra Nevada. Mammoth Mountain was buried by 207 inches of snow, or more than 17 feet, which was the highest February total at the ski resort since records began in 1970.
Heavy rain and snow are not uncommon in California during February, which is usually the wettest month of the year for much of Southern California, including Los Angeles and San Diego.
In 2020, California was kept dry for much of February, including San Francisco, which saw no rain during the month. Hopefully we can avoid that this year.
Temperatures rise in February
The heart of winter has passed for most of the United States as February begins. For most places east of the Mississippi River, the coldest time of year is January, while much of the west receives the coldest temperatures in December.
Average high temperatures in February begin to warm slightly from January but remain cool overall. Average teenage highs are more limited to northern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, while the 60s extend further north into more of southern and parts of central California . Mid-70s highs are returning to parts of the southwest.
Other signs of spring are starting to show due to these warmer temperatures, including flowers blooming in some areas. However, low temperatures can drop below zero for much of the country, so any early flowering should be groomed during frosts.
Average low temperatures are in the single digits above or below freezing in parts of the Northern Plains and upper Midwest in February. Middle lows in the 1950s return to Florida and the Texas coast.
(MAPS: Average temperatures)
February can still be very cold, as we saw three years ago. Rapid City, South Dakota experienced its coldest February on record and saw 20 days of freezing or sub-zero low temperatures, with temperatures dropping to minus 19 degrees. Billings, Montana, set a February record, dipping to zero or colder 19 out of 28 days.
February 2018 saw many warm temperature records tied or set from the south to the northeast. Temperatures soared to 78 degrees in New York on February 21, 2018, surpassing the previous February high of 75. Washington DC recorded its first 80-degree day with a high of 82 on February 21. Several Southern cities experienced their hottest February on record, including New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa.
Tornado danger zone expands
The high risk area for tornadoes extends from January through February as temperatures rise and the jet stream often begins to move. Gulf of Mexico humidity may spike north as low-pressure systems head east across the United States
Parts of the south are at high risk for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes due to proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.
Based on data from 1989 to 2013 from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, an average of 30 tornadoes occur each February. Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are seeing the highest numbers, averaging three tornadoes each. This is a relatively low number compared to the spring and summer months.
However, there is a lot of year-to-year variation in February tornadoes. In 2016, the United States had 102 confirmed tornadoes in February, and there were seven fatalities from these storms. Winter tornadoes can be particularly dangerous as they are often fast moving and difficult to see (wrapped in rain and/or occurring at night).
Flooding can also be a problem in the south in February. In fact, 2019 and 2020 entered the record books with record Februarys in a few cities.
An increase in daylight can be counted on as winter darkness begins to lift, no matter what weather pattern sets in in February.
Much of the United States sees about an hour of extra daylight from early February through the end of the month.
Regions further north are seeing the greatest increase. The Northeast and Midwest see about an hour and 15 minutes more daylight on March 1 compared to late January, while the Pacific Northwest sees an increase closer to an hour and a half.
The daylight increase averages 40 to 50 minutes in the southern part of the Lower 48. However, further north in Alaska, Fairbanks experiences a daylight increase of more than 3 hours.
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