You think we get a lot of snow here in the Northern Plains, try Blue Canyon, California. Blue Canyon averages 240.8 inches of snow per year and is the snowiest recording station in the U.S.. Of course, it is also in the higher elevations. Number two on the list is low elevation Marquette, Michigan with 128.6 inches of snow. Other top 10 location include #5 Caribou, Maine at 110.4 inches per year and #7 Lander, Wyoming with 102.5 inches per year. In contrast, the Sioux Falls area averages around 40 inches of snow per year.
February of 1969 was a dreary month across eastern and northern sections of South Dakota. Periods of heavy fog plagued the region for much of the month greatly reducing visibilities for long stretches of time. Glazing due to the heavy fog and drizzle formed on utility lines resulting in many broken lines.
Winds at 15 to 25 miles continually drifted snow across the roads forcing many routes to be closed. Snowplows would clear roads only to have them drift over again. Snow banks along the sides of some roads piled to 20 to 30 feet high and it became impractical to open roads with pusher type plows. Several rotary type plows had to be flown in from military bases, outside the state, to open roads in eastern South Dakota.
On February 3rd, 1947 the temperature dipped to -81 degrees at the recording station in Snag, in the Yukon Territory. This is the coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. A temperature of -96 degrees was recorded on January 7th, 1982 near Summit Lake in British Columbia. While the recording was likely accurate it was not official and, therefore, the "official" record is still 81 degrees below zero.
On February 4th and 5th, 1984 a fast moving blizzard was racing across northeast and east central South Dakota with light snow and raging winds. Snow amounts were generally less than two inches with the storm. However, as the cold front tore across the area temperatures plunged by as much as 30 degrees in three hours and winds gusted to 70 miles an hour. The fierce winds struck quickly, plummeting visibilities to near zero in blowing snow and making travel very difficult in a matter of minutes. Hundreds of travelers became stranded in the white-out conditions.
February 5th, 1978 marked the beginning of five consecutive days of blizzard conditions across northern South Dakota. Only 1 to 3 inches of new snow fell over the five day period, although drifts were piled high by gusty winds. One unusual aspect of the storm was that the 25 to 45 mile an hour winds were from the southeast. Most of the northern half of the state was paralyzed due to blocked roads as new and old snow combined to drift across the roads. It was estimated that 15 percent of the livestock across the north were lost. In all eighteen counties were declared disaster areas by the state.
Climatologically February is the second snowiest month of the year in Sioux Falls. February averages 8.3 inches of snow second only to the 10.2 average for March. A look at heavy snow events from 1893 to 1994 reveals that 27 storms of six inches or more have occurred in Sioux Falls in the month of February. March has the most with 30 events of 6 or more inches.
The coldest month on record in South Dakota was February of 1936. For that entire month the average LOW temperature in Sioux Falls was -10.9 degrees. More remarkably, the average temperature (that includes highs and lows) in Pollock (in the north central) for February 1936 was a bone chilling -11.0 degrees. That is the coldest monthly average temperature on record anywhere in South Dakota.
February 8th, 1899 marked the beginning of a stretch of remarkably cold weather across the Northern Plains. In fact in the next 4 days the three coldest days on record for Sioux Falls will be recorded. On the 8th the temperature fell to -38 degrees...the third coldest day on record. On February 9th, 1899 the mercury will plunge all the way to 42 degrees below zero...the coldest temperature on record in Sioux Falls. On the 11th of the same year the temp will bottom out at -40...making it the second coldest day on record for Sioux Falls.
February 9th, 1994 the Northern Plains were in the grip of a tremendous cold spell. That morning the Sioux Falls' low temperature dipped to 29 degrees below zero. That wasn't even close to the record as Sioux Falls record low of -42 occurred on this date in 1899. However, other areas faired much worse. Huron fell to -41 while Aberdeen broke its record low at -45 degrees. The coldest temperature in South Dakota, and the country, that morning came from Promise where the mercury plunged to 52 degrees below zero.
During the month of February 1962 Sioux Falls residents spent a lot of time digging themselves out of snow drifts. That February some 48.4 inches of snow buried Sioux Falls. The yearly average snowfall for Sioux Falls is around 40 inches, but February 1962 easily eclipsed that mark. That February of 1962 is the snowiest month on record in Sioux Falls. On average February is the second snowiest month of the year in Sioux Falls (March is first) with 8.3 inches of snow.
On February 11th, 1899 the Northern Plains were in the midst of one of the worst cold snaps on record. The morning of the 11th Sioux Falls' temperature fell to 40 degrees below zero. To this day that stands as the second coldest day on record in Sioux Falls. The only day on record that has been colder occurred two days earlier...on February 9th, 1899 when the mercury fell to 42 degrees below zero.
Residents across central and eastern sections of South Dakota had to slide into work following the previous night's major ice storm. On February 11, 1984 a major bout of freezing ice coated much of central and eastern South Dakota. The extreme weight of the ice caused numerous power outages and knocked down utility poles. In the hardest hit area from Gann Valley (in Buffalo county) to Wessington Springs (in Jerauld county) ice accumulated to as much as 6 inches thick.
The year of 1936 is remembered mostly for the incredibly hot weather and dust bowl conditions of the summer. What is lost in the shuffle is that the early months of 1936 were every bit as brutal as the summer. February of 1936 is the coldest month on record in Sioux Falls as the temperature averaged .5 degrees for the whole month. July 1936 is the warmest month on record in Sioux Falls as the temperature averaged out at 84.6 degrees.
February 1936 was the coldest month on average for the state with an average temperature of -3.6 degrees. Incredibly enough, the same year, 1936, had the highest average temperature for the state as July averaged out at 84.3 degrees.
Strong winds of up to 50 miles an hour and snowfall up to 14 inches combined to make life difficult across South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa from February 14th through the 16th, 1979. Visibilities were reduced to near zero in many areas. Temperatures dipped to as low as -25 degrees, with the strong winds the wind chills approached 90 degrees below zero. Nearly all roads were closed across the tri-state area. Across northwest Iowa drifts piled to 10 to 12 feet high while in southwest Minnesota around 100 semis were stalled near Jackson and a freight train was brought to a halt. In southeast South Dakota some areas lost power as the strong winds took down power lines and snapped adjacent lines into one another.
On February 15th and 16th, 1990 portions of the Northern Plains were hit with a significant snow storm. The heavy snow developed in southwest South Dakota on the 15th and slowly spread eastward. Amounts of 3 to 6 inches were common across the state although a narrow band of 10 to 12 accumulations stretched from the Pierre area to Huron. Some snow amounts were: 12 inches in Huron, 6 inches in Sioux Falls, and 6 inches in Aberdeen. The storm also dumped an 8 to 11 inch band into central Minnesota. Portions of Iowa were glazed with freezing rain, including the Des Moines area where over 250 car accidents were reported in a 3 hour period.
February 16th, 1936 was awfully cold across South Dakota as temperatures plunged to well below zero across the state. However the 17th will be even colder. The temperature at McIntosh in north central South Dakota will plummet all the way to 58 degrees below zero on February 17th, 1936. Not only is that an actual air temperature (not wind chill) it is the coldest temperature on record for the entire state of South Dakota. Ironically, it occurred in a year remembered for its extreme heat and the Dust Bowl of 1936. In actuality the early months of 1936 were as brutally cold as the summer was devastatingly hot.
February 17th and 18th, 1962 Sioux Falls was buried in what was the greatest 24-hour snowstorm on record for the city. An incredible 26 inches of snow accumulated in the city in a 24-hour period. The 3 day storm total through the 18th was 32.2 inches. In an average year Sioux Falls receives around 40 inches and the city approached that mark in just three days. The humongous storm also contributed to the snowiest month on record in Sioux Falls as 48.4 inches piled up in February 1962.
On February 17th and 18th, 1991 a strong winter storm dumped heavy snow on portions of South Dakota. The storm began in the Black Hills and then stretched across central to northeastern parts of the state. Parts of the Black Hills received upwards of 2 feet of snow while the rest of the affected area accumulated 8 to 15 inches. The heavy snow prompted the closing of Interstate 90 west of the Missouri River and numerous additional roads across the central part of the state.
The winter of 1976-77 was a snowy one for the Black Hills. In fact, Lead received a massive 258.2 inches of snow for the winter season. That is the highest winter season snow total on record for the state of South Dakota.
On February 20th and 21st, 1993 a copious amount of moisture was fed over a cold Arctic airmass across the Northern Plains producing widespread snowfall. The heaviest amounts were reported across northwest Iowa as a convective snow band dumped 12 to 16 inches from Sioux City northeastward to near Cherokee. Sioux City reported 15 inches with the storm. Unofficial reports in the Storm lake area came in with 18 to 20 inches of new snow. Some areas received thunder with the snow and the convective nature led to tremendous snowfall rates...in some areas snow piled up at the rate of 3 to 4 inches an hour.
Snow also occurred across nearly all of South Dakota with the heaviest amounts in the southeast where 6 to 9 inches fell. The Sioux falls area came in with 6 inches of new snow.
On February 21st, 1975 a fierce blizzard with strong winds and heavy snow hammered northwest and north central sections of South Dakota. Snow amounts exceeded 6 inches across the area and the high winds forced the closure of many roads across the area as deep drifts buried the region.
The winter of 1968-69 produced a tremendous amount of snow across the Northern Plains. Sioux Falls received 94.7 inches of snow that winter and that is the greatest seasonal snowfall on record in Sioux Falls. Not to be outdone Clear Lake (in the northeast) totaled an outstanding 109.2 inches of snow during that same season. That total is the greatest seasonal snowfall amount in South Dakota outside of the Black Hills.
On February 23rd, 1981 the high temperature in Sioux Falls soared to 70 degrees. That tied the record set on the same day in 1958 for the warmest temperature on record in Sioux Falls for the month of February and is also the earliest in the year that the temp has hit 70 degrees.
A major late winter storm affected much of the Northern Plains on February 23rd and 24th, 1977. The storm produced snow across all of South Dakota, an atrocious freezing rain event in southern Minnesota, and severe thunderstorms in eastern Iowa. Snowfall amounts exceeded 4 inches across nearly all of central and eastern South Dakota with amounts as high as 15 inches in the northeast and south central. Roads became snow packed or ice covered closing down most business.
Across east central South Dakota and most of southern Minnesota the storm produced primarily freezing rain. Numerous power outages affected the area as thick layers of ice built up on power lines. It was the worst power outage in the Twin Cities in a decade. The extreme weight of the ice in combination with gusty winds splintered and literally shattered untold numbers of trees.
On February 24th and 25th, 1993 the tri-state area around Sioux Falls was hit with a second snowstorm in five days. The light fluffy snow piled up to 5 to 10 inches in most areas. The totals from the two storms exceeded a foot across portions of southeast South Dakota including Sioux Falls. The light nature of the second snowfall allowed the snow to drift easily.
At what temperature is it too warm to snow? An initial reaction to this question might be "when the temperature is above the melting point of 32 degrees". But, that is not the case. In fact, often snowstorms will begin with a surface temperature near 36 degrees. You may wonder why the snow doesn't melt in these warm temperatures. Well, to a degree it does.
For snow to survive in temperatures above freezing relative humidities must be below 100 percent. The reason for this is that as the snow falls into air that is not saturated a little melting of the flakes occurs. This water quickly evaporates and lowers the air's temperature and the temperature of the flake, thus retarding the melting process. As this process continues the air temperature continues to fall. In fact, sometimes rain will change over to snow because of this process. So, when is it too warm to snow? In rare cases the cold, relatively dry air from a thunderstorm has swept snowflakes to the surface with temperatures over 50 degrees!
On February 27th, 1987 a major winter storm was in the midst of paralyzing sections of western and central South Dakota. From February 24th through the 28th prolific amounts of snow (from 6 to 30 inches) piled up across the west and central sectopns of the state. Amounts of 3 to 6 inches occurred in the northeast. Some 3 day snow totals included: 30 inches at Philip (in Haakon county), 26 inches at Murdo (in Jones county), and 15 inches at Rapid City.
A rather long-lived snowstorm hit South Dakota from February 28th through March 4th, 1989. Snow began in the west on February 28th and continued until March 3rd while the storm began in the east on March 1st and continued through the 4th. In many areas it snowed continuously for over 60 hours. Some snow durations and accumulations for the storm included:
Sioux Falls: Duration: 76 hours 55 minutes with a total of 12.1 inches of snow
Watertown: Snowed for 60 hours and 25 minutes straight with 13.5 inches of new snow.
Aberdeen: Duration: 62 hours and 57 minutes, but only 4.8 inches of snow.
Huron: Snowed for 75 hours and 15 minutes with 13.8 inches piling up.
Pierre: Snow fell for 83 consecutive hours with a total accumulation of 10 inches.
Rapid City: Duration: 77 hours and 8 minutes with 6.7 inches of new snow.
Many people start to think about Spring as we approach March. However, March happens to be the snowiest month on average in Sioux Falls. An "average" March receives 10.2 inches of snow...February is the second snowiest month with an average of 8.3 inches. Of the eight heaviest 24-hour snow totals on record for Sioux Falls 7 have occurred in February or March.