From Freezing Rain to Giant Hail, Great Plains Endure An Icy Weekend

By Bob Henson
Published: 04:47 PM GMT die 16o January, anno 2017

Freezing rain materialized as expected during the weekend over a large swath of the central U.S., from Texas to Illinois. The ice has been widespread and prolonged, yet the ingredients haven’t come together as they could have for an truly catastrophic ice storm. Temperatures have been borderline--near or just below freezing over large parts of the affected area--and in many cases the ground was still warm enough to help keep surface ice to a minimum. Rainfall wasn’t quite as heavy as feared on the cold side of this storm; ice accumulations have been below 0.5” in most areas. In addition, temperatures crept upward through the weekend across the southern part of the ice belt, which allowed much of the ice to melt in place. Also helping reduce the storm’s impact: winds were mostly on the light side, which reduced damage to ice-coated trees and power lines.

There was still plenty of slipping and sliding for many thousands of central U.S. residents. At least six highway deaths have occurred during the storm, according to a roundup. Some 10,000 customers reported lost power in Oklahoma, mainly in the state’s northwest half, together with more than 12,000 customers still without power in the Texas Panhandle as of Monday morning. The hardest-hit area extended from the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles into southwest Kansas, which experienced several rounds of showers and even thunderstorms gliding atop surface air that stayed below freezing. In Dodge City, KS, power was knocked out to hundreds of customers. Embedded at bottom is a photo from Liberal, KS, where photographer Michael Strickland tweeted, “It almost sounds like thunder from all the branches.”

Figure 1. Mary Zinser scrapes a thick layer of ice off her windshield in Arnold, MO, on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. A thick glaze of ice covered roads from Oklahoma to southern Illinois on Friday amid a winter storm that caused numerous wrecks, forced school cancellations, grounded flights and prompted dire warnings for people to stay home. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

By early Monday, the main upper-level system and surface low had become stacked over Kansas, which pushed a surge of freezing rain further north into southeast Nebraska and most of Iowa. Air temperatures hovered close to freezing, but colder ground temperatures in this area facilitated glazing on untreated and less-traveled highways, streets, and sidewalks. Ice storm warnings remained in effect on Monday morning from southwest Kansas to central Iowa, with rainfall and drizzle expected to decrease from southwest to northeast as the day wears on.

Below are the largest state-by-state ice accumulations for the entire storm as of 8:00 AM CST Monday, as reported by the NOAA/NWS Weather Prediction Center.

Iowa: 0.25”, Knoxville
Illinois: 0.37”, near Maeystown
Kansas: 0.60”, Columbus
Missouri: 0.75”, near Aldrich
Nebraska: 0.30”, Grand Island
Oklahoma: 1.00”, Beaver
Texas: 0.50”, Canadian

Figure 2. Ice hangs from trees along a creek bed in North Tulsa, Saturday Jan. 14, 2017. Image credit: Jessie Wardarski/Tulsa World via AP.

Stormy night of football
One of two big pro-football playoff games--the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Kansas City Chiefs--was moved from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night to avoid the worst of the ice. Temperatures were just above freezing (33°F) by game time in Kansas City, with ice impacts minimal.

A much scarier situation developed with another playoff game--the Green Bay Packers at the Dallas Cowboys--that took place on the warm side of the central U.S. storm. A tornadic thunderstorm approached Arlington, TX, after the Packers-Cowboys game wrapped up on Sunday night. About 1000 people who had yet to leave AT&T Stadium were forced to shelter in place from just after 8:00 pm to 9:40 pm CDT as the storm swept overhead, with a tornado warning for Arlington at one point. Of the two confirmed tornadoes on Sunday, one struck in Grand Prairie, only about 5 miles southeast of the stadium. Severe weather will be on the decrease starting Monday, though a few storms could reach severe levels along and near the Gulf Coast during the week. Meanwhile, the eastern half of the United States and Canada are in for a long stretch of relatively mild weather for January.

Dallas-Fort Worth ended up with 3.16” of rain on Sunday, making it their second-wettest January day on record behind the 3.54” that fell on January 25, 2012. Fittingly for this weekend, one of the most dramatic severe weather reports was ice-related. Hailstones up to 4” in diameter crashed to the ground Sunday evening in Medina, about 40 miles west of San Antonio (see embedded photo below). Only a few storms produce hail this large in the United States during the month of January, according to Patrick Marsh (NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center). Hailstones as big as 5” fell in Arkansas on January 21, 1999, and Missouri on January 7, 2008.

We’ll be back with a new post by Tuesday afternoon. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Bob Henson

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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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