A powerful storm system tracked across the northern Great Plains this holiday season. Heavy snows and blizzard conditions were observed in the Dakotas, strong storms occurred in Kansas and Missouri, and an ice storm developed in areas between. Of significant note was a tornado report in Kansas that if confirmed would be the first tornado recorded on Christmas day in that state. In addition, wind gusts in excess of 70 mph were reported in northwestern Iowa, causing structural damage in the area. These conditions are a stark reminder that like meteorologists, Mother Nature does not take the holidays off. Interestingly, a similar storm system impacted the southern plains last holiday season.
One year ago, a major storm system moved from Texas through the Great Lakes, capping off a year filled with extreme weather in Texas and beyond. Blizzard conditions were observed in eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle as deadly tornadoes moved through the Dallas area. Heavy snowfall stretched northward through Iowa and Wisconsin, many areas receiving over 10 inches.
The morning of December 26th, 2015, an area of low pressure developed across southwest Texas as a mid-level trough swept across the Southern Rockies. Several days of southerly flow ahead of this boundary led to ample moisture across eastern Texas. This unstable environment interacted with the dynamic nature of the system to produce supercell thunderstorms. Unfortunately, damaging tornadoes moved through the Dallas metro area later that evening.
While this severe weather was occurring, a major blizzard developed to the west. Strong high pressure over the High Plains and Northern Rockies fed plenty of cold air into the backside of the deepening low. This resulted in very heavy snowfall with wind gusts in excess of 60 mph over a wide area the evening of the 26th into the 27th. Snow totals up to 20 inches and drifts to 10 feet were observed in the Texas Panhandle. Lubbock, Texas, experienced the 3rd highest snowfall event in their recorded history, receiving 11.2 inches.
Between the blizzard and tornadoes, an ice storm developed over western Oklahoma. Despite surface temperatures below freezing, an elevated warm layer caused snowfall to melt before reaching the ground. Widespread significant ice accumulations resulted, with reports over ½ inch stretching from the Red River northward to El Reno, Oklahoma.
As the system progressed northeast, widespread heavy rainfall developed along a boundary stretching through Missouri and southern Illinois. Widespread flash flooding transpired, resulting in warnings for over 75 counties. This rainfall caused major rises on rivers, with record flooding occurring on the Mississippi in the wake of the system. The water eventually flowed down the remainder of the Mississippi, causing significant rises into the Gulf coast states in January of 2016.
From a severe blizzard to an ice storm, and a destructive tornado outbreak to record flooding, this dynamic holiday storm will not easily be forgotten.