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Seventh coldest Iowa winter

By Staff | Mar 13, 2014


By USDA-National

Agricultural Statistics Service

February saw average temperatures below normal with lows more than 20 degrees below zero.

Precipitation for the month was above normal and fell often in the form of snow.

Soil erosion continued to be a concern with strong winds throughout the month.

As February came to a close, moisture levels rated 14 percent very short, 39 percent short, 46 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus.

Westcentral Iowa was the driest area in the state with 85 percent rated as very short to short.

The Northeast reported the most soil moisture with 91 percent rated as adequate to surplus.

Grain movement rated as 37 percent none, 38 percent light, 22 percent moderate and 3 percent heavy.

February had a number of extremely cold days and a few snowstorms and ice that caused interruptions to grain transportation in some areas.

Availability of hay and roughage supplies was rated as 17 percent short, 77 percent adequate and 6 percent surplus with 42 percent of the supply in good condition.

Livestock conditions have been reported as mostly normal.

Hog and pig losses in February were 5 percent light, 80 percent average and 15 percent heavy.

The higher-than-normal losses resulted from the spread of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

Cattle and calf losses were 9 percent light, 85 percent average and 6 percent heavy. A few respondents reported calving beginning.



State climatologist

February temperatures averaged 12.6 degrees, or 11.4 degrees below normal, while precipitation totaled 1.54 inches, or 0.49 inch above normal.

This ranks as the seventh coldest and 28th wettest February among 142 years of records.

A colder February was last recorded in 1979 and a colder calendar month in December 2000.


The cold weather pattern that began in Iowa in mid-October continued through February.

Temperatures averaged below normal on all but five days – Feb. 13 and Feb. 17 through 20.

There were no days averaging as much as 10 degrees above normal, but were 18 days more than 10 degrees colder than usual.

Elkader reported the lowest temperature of the month with a -29 degrees reading on Feb. 11. However, bitter cold prevailed even at the end of the month with -20 degrees temperature on February 28 at Cresco, with temperatures to fall even further in early March.

Nevertheless, portions of western and southern Iowa enjoyed some brief respite from the cold at mid-month with readings climbing above 50 degrees in some areas on Feb. 13, 15, 17, 18 and 19.

The temperature at Sidney soared to 67 degrees on the afternoon of Feb. 18th. However, the temperature has not exceeded 42 degrees at Charles City, Northwood and Osage since November.

The Spencer Airport recorded the lowest wind chill of the month at -42 degrees on Feb. 10.

Heating degree days

Home heating requirements, as estimated by heating degree day totals, averaged 27 percent greater than normal and last February.

Degree day totals thus far this heating season – since July 1, 2013 – are running 18 percent greater than last season and 13 percent greater than normal.


Precipitation was much more frequent during February than for the prior two months.

Monthly precipitation totals were above normal at most locations and well above normal over the parts of eastern Iowa.

Totals varied from 0.29 inch at Castana to 3.9 inches at Donnellson.

A higher February total has been recorded only once (4.25 in 2001) at Donnellson since measurements began there in 1940.

The month’s largest precipitation event came on Feb. 20 with a wide variety of weather across Iowa.

This event began with rain in most areas, but transitioned to moderate to heavy snow over much of the northwest one-half of the state.

Greatest snow totals were reported from Algona, Britt and Lake Mills with eight inches.

Meanwhile unseasonably heavy rain fell across far southeast Iowa with Donnellson picking up 2.21 inches.

Thunderstorms were common across the southeast one-half of the state with hail up to one inch in diameter reported in Linn, Union, Warren and Wayne counties.

Blizzard conditions were reported across north central Iowa on the evening of Feb. 20 with wind gusts to 55 mph at Mason City.

Beyond that day, nearly all of the remainder of the month’s precipitation fell as snow.

Snow totals varied from 6.9 inches at Hawarden in the northwest to 29.2 inches at Keosauqua in the southeast.

The Keosauqua snowfall is the highest total for any month at that location. The previous record was 26.5 inches in February 2008 among 121 years of records.

The statewide average snowfall was 14.6 inches, or 7.8 inches more than normal. This was the sixth snowiest February among 127 years of records and the state’s snowiest calendar month since December 2009.

Winter summary

The three mid-winter months of December, January and February averaged 14.6 degrees, or 7.5 degrees below normal, while precipitation totaled 2.61 inches or 0.73 inches less than normal.

This ranks as the ninth coldest and 42nd driest winter among 141 years of records.

A colder winter was last recorded in 1978-1979 and a drier winter in 2005-2006.

Persistent cold, with subnormal temperatures prevailing since mid-October, has allowed the soil under sod to freeze 2 to 3 feet beneath the surface and under roadways to depths as great as 5 and 6 inches.

Water main breaks have become common across the state. Frost depths have remained relatively steady over the past two weeks and probably have reached their winter maximums.

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