WSAW - Blogs - Jeremy Tabin

February 1st-2nd Blizzard

Usually around Groundhog Day, I give you a detailed breakdown of how Punxsutawney Phil and Jimmy in Sun Prairie either predicted 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring.  This go around, I'm giving you a quick blurb...which is they both didn't see their shadow & predicted an early spring.  Surprising for Phil, considering his "inner circle" tends to see shadows on the cloudiest of days, but I suppose when a major winter storm is driving through both locations, it's hard to say the sun was out.

What I really want to spend some quality time reviewing is the latest major winter storm, which blasted southern Wisconsin, Illinois, and a good chunk of the Great Lakes with heavy snow.  As much as I wanted to call this the Groundhog Blizzard, it really didn't all take place on Groundhog Day.  There may be some catchy other name it gets later, but let's just go with the February Blizzard of 2011.  So let's get right to the point, this blizzard not only dumped a lot of snow, but also produced some fierce winds in the process and dropped some cold air down into the Midwest.  Here are the snowfall totals of the storm across southern Wisconsin & Illinois courtesy of the NWS Milwaukee & NWS Chicago.

All of the ingredients came together for this storm to be a memorable, if not historic one, in the eastern half of the country.  First off was the colliding of mild air to the south with a surge of arctic air dropping down out of the north.  Temperatures in Dallas went from the 60s and 70s last weekend down into the mid 10s on Monday and Tuesday.  Next, along the area of sharp temperature contrast, low pressure that had worked in from the west coast, reorganized in SE Texas, then intensified as it tracked northeast from the Mid-Mississippi River Valley to the eastern Great Lakes.  Of course with the low coming together in Texas, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico was added in, which typically leads to massive winter storms in the middle of the country.  In addition to the wallop of snow, there was an expansive area of ice that accumulated from east of St. Louis to Indy and over into PA.  Along the Gulf Coast states, severe storms caused a good number of wind damage reports and spawned an EF1 tornado in Oak Hill, TX.

Closer to home in Wisconsin we were mainly concerned about the snow in the southern third of the state. As you'll notice from the maps above, there were two heavy snow bands that impacted the area.  The first was from Madison southwest to Mineral Point, Platteville and Monroe.  The other heavy band was along the western shore of Lake Michigan from roughly Port Washington down through Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and west over to Delavan, caused by a combination of lake enhancement from the brisk winds off of the lake and being in the sweet spot for the heaviest snow on the northwest side of the low.  I should mention that the lake effect snow got going early on in parts of eastern WI, quickly adding to around 6" before the main area of snow from the storm enveloped the region.  Meanwhile,  the band of heavy snow in south central to southwest Wisconsin was literally that, an area of heavier snow that set up shop pivoting on the backside of low pressure.  The highest totals included just about 2 feet in Kenosha, 19" at the airport in Milwaukee, 20.5" in Middleton and 14" in southwest Grant County.  Not to forget, snow drifts caused by the wind were in the ballpark of 5-8 feet high.  Travel along I-94 and I-43 was crippled thanks to the heavy snow along with blowing and drifting of the snow across the roadways, leaving numerous cars and trucks stranded.

In central Wisconsin, Juneau, Adams, Waushara and Waupaca Counties were spared the worst of the storm in the snowfall department, only picking up 1-3".  No less whatever did fall did lead to some whiteout conditions.  Down in such places as Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, visibilities were under a quarter of a mile for several hours during the height of the storm Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.  And no surprise here, this was a record breaking snowfall, with Madison setting a new mark for highest snowfall ever on Feb 1st,  Milwaukee hitting a new daily snowfall record on Feb 2nd, while Chicago O'Hare picked up 20.2 in total, making it the 3rd highest snowfall on record and the biggest February snowfall.

One last thing of interest was that there was quite a bit of thundersnow with this storm.  Check out the map from the NWS Chicago.  All of the yellow "-" and "+" symbols are lightning strikes picked up by Doppler radar.

You can read up more on this storm, including surface maps, satellite images, wind gusts and photos provided from the NWS La Crosse, NWS MIlwaukee and NWS Chicago.

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