Friday, April 12, 2024

Polar vortex responsible for deep freeze

Meteorologist Brad Barton

Every 30 years or so, North Texas endures an unusually severe winter outbreak of ice, snow, sleet and record cold temperatures. This was our year for it.

At the depth of the cold, Denton Enterprise Airport dropped to a record 6 below zero. DFW Airport stayed below freezing for 139 consecutive hours during the Arctic blast. This ties the fifth longest freezing streak on record. Let’s not even mention those sub-zero wind chills!

In the broader record, North Texas has recorded intensely cold temperatures in 1899 (-8); 1930 (-1) 1949 ;(-2) and in 1989; (-1).

By the numbers, our warmest temperature was 81 on the 23rd.  Our coldest was -6 on the 16th, giving us an average day/night temperature of 37, which was near 10 degrees colder than normal.

Precipitation in southern Denton County was ample, with an unofficial 2.93” for the month. We had anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of dry snow across Denton County during our historic Artic blast.

Morriss Road in Flower Mound on Feb. 14, 2021 (photo courtesy of Susan North)

Unfortunately, the snow and extreme cold was made much worse by a power emergency that endangered citizens and damaged many homes and buildings with burst pipes and water leaks. It embarrassed the state of Texas and sent shockwaves all the way to Austin, where we can hope the legislators and power regulators, whose salaries we pay, get off their… thrones and get to work.

While we forecasters can often miss marginal events and nuanced model data, there was no failure in forecasting this one. Anyone could see that a Siberian cold wave was going to slip away from the Polar Vortex and push southward to the equator… 10 days in advance.

If we need to fire up natural gas or less-efficient coal-fired plants to meet the emergency for a couple days, we should be able to do it. There were reports that Texas asked the Department of Energy for permission to run its power plants at 100%, but was denied.

I’m not sure where the problem truly lies, but somewhere between Austin and Washington somebody needs to figure it out and fix it.

More people died from the cold rather than from traffic accidents. We had enough power. We just didn’t use it. It is well-established that wind-turbines were iced up and unable to run, while solar panels were covered in snow and ice.

Meanwhile, dozens of coal plants had been dismantled. Some weather fatalities cannot be prevented, but others can. And that makes it even more tragic.

And pray God’s blessing on all the organizations who stepped up to provide housing, hot food and coffee to people who were displaced and to the volunteers who came to help them. Even folks whose water pipes were frozen, left their own homes to serve others. Salt of the earth.

The Climate Prediction Center forecasts drier and warmer than normal conditions through March, which would be a welcome change.

Brad Barton is Chief Meteorologist for 820AM WBAP/99.5 The Wolf/Texas Rangers Baseball Club. 

Brad Barton
Brad Barton
Brad Barton is Chief Meteorologist of WBAP 820/93.3 FM and 570 KLIF, which originate Emergency Alert System weather warnings for North Texas.

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