Early February weather can be exciting, but not this week

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The weather this workweek will be mild and mostly dry. Afternoon highs will be in the upper 60s to around 70 and overnight lows near 50.

A broad ridge of high pressure in the upper atmosphere over the western half of the United States will keep the air above us slowly sinking and the high altitude winds coming from a dry west-northwest direction.

The ridge is forecast to weaken and flatten out over the next few days. By the weekend this will allow a low-pressure trough several miles above ground and an associated surface cool front to head eastward from the Central Plains. The approach of those systems, along with developing low pressure in the middle Mississippi River valley, will give us a chance of showers. At this time, Sunday looks like the most likely day for rain.

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The cool front will pass through sometime late in the weekend or Monday. The air behind the front will have originated mostly over the Pacific rather than the cold, interior of the North American continent. That means temperatures behind the front aren’t expected to be very cold. We shouldn’t have to worry about any freezes for at least the next eight or nine days.

Last week’s weather was tranquil, and since that trend will continue this week, I decided to look back a few years to other late Januarys and early Februarys when the weather was anything but tranquil.

It was just three years ago during the last week of January 2014 that we had sleet and freezing rain in Pearl River County. The icy mess extended across much of south Mississippi and southeast Louisiana causing traffic headaches galore.

For example, the I-10 bridge over the Pearl River just east of Slidell had to be closed for a number of hours because of accidents caused by patchy ice.

Most of January that year was much colder than average in south Mississippi. Temperatures dropped below freezing 15 days in January 2014. That’s much colder than January this year, when Picayune has had only four days with minimum temperatures below freezing.

We had a memorable cold snap the first week of February in 1996 when a frigid air mass swept southward from Canada. For four mornings in a row from February 3rd through the 6th our low temperatures were in the teens, which set record lows for those dates for Picayune.

The 11 degree reading that year on the morning of February 5th was the coldest temperature recorded in February in Picayune since recordkeeping began in 1948. No doubt it was much colder than that in some Februarys in Picayune before recordkeeping began.

Our coldest day in modern times was almost certainly during the Great Freeze of February 1899, when on February 13th New Orleans set an all-time record low of 6 degrees and Mobile bottomed out at an almost unbelievable one degree below zero.

Cold isn’t the only thing that can spice up our weather in early February. On February 2, 2006 a potent wave of low pressure in Louisiana set off a round of severe storms. Kenner was hit by two tornadoes, one of which damaged New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Those were interesting years. They’re so interesting that they make me thankful for the upcoming week’s uneventful weather.

By Skip Rigney