Record Precipitation Falls in February 2019

Posted: March 12, 2019, 4:13 pm by jsullivan

It was an active month of February across the Midwest with record precipitation (rain and melted snowfall) across parts of the region. However, with only Chicago coming in colder than average, not all of that was snow.

In terms of temperature, Cincinnati and Dayton both finished nearly four degrees above-average for the month (3.7 and 3.8 degrees respectively).  Columbus (2.0 degrees warmer) and Indianapolis (1.7 degrees) were a bit closer to average, with only Chicago coming in colder than average with a monthly departure of -1.8 degrees. 

Everyone got more precipitation than normal, and in parts of the Ohio Valley it was significantly more.  Cincinnati came in with a remarkable 7.23” of precipitation, a whopping 4.42” more than normal in what is supposed to be one of the driest months of the year!  Believe it or not, that total doesn’t quite edge out the monthly record of 7.80” that fell just last year!  Columbus (5.49”, 3.24” above) and Dayton (6.15”, 3.91” above) saw less precipitation but managed to both set new monthly record precipitation amounts.  Indianapolis received 4.68” of precipitation, which was 2.36” more than average.  Chicago was the “dry spot” at 2.81” (only 1.02” above normal).

Due to the generally mild temperatures, a lot of that precipitation fell as rain and not snow, leading to varied snowfall totals across the board.  Columbus was the snowiest of the bunch with 11.6” of the white stuff in February (5.5” above average).  Dayton also ran a modest surplus, with 9.4” of snow falling, 3.5” more than normal.  Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati were all varying degrees of below average in the snowfall department.  Chicago received 9.0” on the month, falling 0.1” shy of average.  Indianapolis managed 4.5” (2.0” below normal), while Cincinnati only received a paltry 1.6” of snow all month (a -4.9” departure). 

So how did the region end up with these extremes? Well, the month started snowy in parts of Ohio, with a “clipper” bringing at least a little snow to the entire region.  Columbus pulled in 4.2” of snow, with Dayton recording 1.9”.  Chicago and Indianapolis both saw a light snowfall of around one inch, while Cincinnati whitened up the ground with 0.5” (tied for their largest snow event of the month).    

Estimated rainfall totals from February 7th courtesy of the National Weather Service 

The clipper to start the month was followed by a warm-up, with everyone except Chicago topping the 60-degree mark on February 3rd - 4th (Chicago broke into the 50s).  This warm up culminated with a storm on February 7th that brought heavy rain and even some severe weather to the region.  Chicago was on the lighter side of the system, with 0.72” of rain falling February 6th – 7th.  Indianapolis saw 2.50” of rain between the two days, with 3.13” in Dayton, 1.94” in Cincinnati, and 2.64” for Columbus.  Not surprisingly, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati all broke their daily record rainfall on either February 6th or 7th.  A bit of severe weather also accompanied this rain-maker, with an EF-0 tornado occurring just east of Dayton in Clark County. 

A brief cold snap followed, with lows in the teens for February 8th (single digits in Chicago).  The chilly temperatures caused icy conditions as any lingering run-off or flooding froze-up across the Midwest.  This cold snap was accompanied by light snow from another clipper, with Columbus seeing a bit over two inches. Dayton and Indianapolis also saw a little over an inch of snow, with Chicago and Cincinnati rounding out the list with just under an inch.  

The whip-lash continued with another round of heavy rain February 11th and 12th, with Cincinnati (1.20”) and Columbus (0.91”) breaking more daily rainfall records on the 12th.  Overall, two-day rainfall totals were 2.16” in Cincinnati, 1.32” in Dayton, 0.98” in Columbus, 0.77” in Indianapolis, and 0.49” in Chicago.  Chicago was on the cold side of this storm and managed to receive 1 – 2” of snow between February 11th and 12th.  This repeated heavy rain caused river flooding across parts of Ohio and Indiana. 

A rather tranquil week followed with no notable temperature departures.  However, temperatures were cold enough for a snowstorm in Chicago February 17th – 18th with 4.9” of snow at O’Hare (but up to 8” in the northern suburbs).  A prolonged period of freezing drizzle occurred during the afternoon of the 17th during this storm in Chicago, which caused icy roads and some accidents before snow picked back up by evening.  Indianapolis also received a coating – 0.5” from snow showers on February 18th, but only flurries fell in Ohio. 

Ohio Department of Transportation camera catches lightning illuminating the sky while snow is falling on February 20th 

Quickly following was a larger system on February 20th, bringing snow changing to rain.  The system was most notable in the Columbus and Dayton areas due to thundersnow and brief snow rates as high as 2” per hour occurring near the morning rush hour.  Dayton (4.9”) and Columbus (officially 2.8”) both saw a quick hit of plowable snow, with locations on the northern sides of both metros recording amounts up to 6”).  Indianapolis received a little over an inch of snow, while Cincinnati (mostly rain/ice) and Chicago were on the outer fringes of this storm with generally a coating – 0.5”. 

Wind damage in Indianapolis from February 24th

One of the more news-worthy events of the month came in the form of wind on February 24th.  A large low pressure moving through the Great Lakes rapidly intensified and brought strong winds to the entire region.  Remarkably, every official reporting station of interest gusted to at least 50 mph, and some gusted well over 60 mph.  The peak gusts from the day are 66 mph in Indianapolis, 60 mph in Chicago, 57 mph in Dayton, and 50 mph for both Columbus and Cincinnati.  These winds caused tree damage and hundreds of thousands of power outages between Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  

We rounded out the month with only last light snow event across Ohio and Indiana.  Here, Columbus received a quick 2.2” of snow on February 28th, with a coating – 1.0" for Dayton, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Only flurries fell the Chicago area once again as the system grazed the region.

Lead Long Range Meteorologist
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