Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Blizzard of '71

I'm continuing to update the winter weather post, just scroll down.


The Blizzard of 1971 is included in most Top Ten weather event lists for the Great Plains.  If our forecast is correct, then parts of southern Kansas (only, this does not apply to the Panhandles) will rival or exceed the 1971 storm.  Here is what the National Weather Service says about it:

On February 21st, 1971, an intense winter storm crossing the Souther Plains buried Southern Kansas with 10-13 inches of snow. The storm packed such a terrific punch, that gusty north-northeast winds 25-40 mph produced near zero visibility bringing a large portion of Southern Kansas to a standstill. The storm began shortly before daybreak on the 21st with the storm hitting full throttle around 8 AM. The storm unleashed its fury for almost 8 hours before easing up late in the afternoon. However, periods of light snow would continue on through the night and into the morning of the 22nd. When the storm ended around midday on the 22nd, 13 inches of snow had been recorded at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, making this one of the five worst snowstorms ever to hit Wichita, dating back to 1888.

The snow amounts weren't all that impressive, but the driving winds caused huge drifts.

When this storm occurred, I was a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma and I spent most of that Sunday in the met. lab amazed by what I was seeing.  Here is the Oklahoma summary of the storm:


Oklahoma’s extreme snowstorm of record was the blizzard of February 21-23, 1971. This  blizzard buried northwestern Oklahoma under as much as three feet of snow, not accounting for drifts. Buffalo was the hardest hit, reporting 23 inches of snow on the 21st and a state-record snow depth of 36 inches by the morning of the 24th. The snow was driven by winds 30 to 50 miles per hour, producing drifts as high as 20 feet. Military cargo planes were used to airdrop hay to cattle stranded in the far-flung pastures of the region. Losses to agriculture were estimated at $2.1 million (1971 dollars).


Will this storm cause the extreme snows in Kansas?  Very hard to say.  This has been one of the most difficult-to-forecast storms of my career.  There is zero doubt that some areas will have 20" of snowfall driven into drifts by 50 mph winds.  And, there is little doubt that 50 miles to the west of that band, little or no snow will fall.  I have been posting maps showing the extreme contrasts.

We'll know pretty well by this time tomorrow.

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