On Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog emerged from his home in Pennsylvania and predicted six more weeks of an already cold winter, and Nebraska has experienced that extension of winter.
The middle of February reached frigid temperatures, not just in Lincoln but all around Nebraska. When temperatures in Lincoln dipped to -31 degrees on Feb. 16, it was the second coldest temperature recorded in the city since 1887, according to KETV Newswatch 7.
These temperatures came just weeks after Nebraska was hit with a snow storm that resulted in Lincoln getting 14.5 inches of snow on Jan. 25, according to the Lincoln Weather and Climate data.
The cold weather is thanks to a cold air mass in Northern Canada, Matthew Van Den Broeke, an associate professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences, said.
“We developed a pool of really cold air up in Northern Canada, and then the jetstream patterns set up just right to bring it down over us,” Van Den Broeke said.
While the cold air was developing, the snowstorm that hit Lincoln and much of Nebraska was a separate event, Van Den Broeke said.
On the night that Lincoln recorded its -31 degree temperature, the conditions were set perfectly for it to happen.
“It was nice, clear and there was a deep and fairly fresh snow pack on the ground,” Van Den Broeke said.
When a snowpack is thick and fresh, much like the one Lincoln had, Van Den Broeke said it makes it much more difficult for the cold air to warm up, especially at night.
Van Den Broeke said that the weather and conditions Texas is facing is partly due to the cold air that hit Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest and Great Plains.
While this weather was definitely out of the ordinary, even for Nebraska, Van Den Broeke doesn’t anticipate this being a sign of things to come.
“There’s not necessarily a correlation between this and what happens later,” Van Den Broeke said.
However, because of the amount of snow still on the ground, more cold weather is still possible with the right conditions. Additionally, there is some cold air over Siberia, which could come down sometime in March, Van Den Broeke said.
On Sunday, Feb. 14, UNL made the decision to cancel all in-person classes for Monday, Feb. 15 and Tuesday, Feb. 16 out of caution for the falling temperatures that were expected for those days.
“Each situation is different and there are several factors that go into these decisions, but first and foremost is safety,” Deb Fiddelke, the chief communications and marketing officer at UNL, said in a statement regarding the process for which classes are canceled due to weather.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and emergence of software like Zoom, digital meetings are feasible now, and that could translate into how school cancellations take place.
“We are working on whether there may be changes to the inclement weather policies due [to] greater use of online and web-based classes,” Fiddelke said in the statement.