A Note from Cottonwood Corners

We just recently experienced more than one week of frigid and in some cases record setting low temperatures out on the vast and open prairie.  Some may have been thinking and wondering to themselves or perhaps even sharing with others: “Why on earth do I continue living here?”  But then we think of our ancestors and early settlers who came to this area in the 1800’s.

That was before there were L. L. Bean (insulated) Boots that shed snow and rain for both men and women. Another advantage today is the current and up-to-date information from the National Weather Service.  We get this information instantly on our radio, TV, computer, I-Phone, and other personnel devices.

The radio stations do a marvelous job in keeping us up-to-date on the current weather and they regularly remind us of any possible dangerous weather conditions.  They do their job; however, we sometimes ignore the warnings and fail to follow their advice.

It definitely can be said:  “Common sense isn’t as common as one might think!’

That bizarre early snowstorm of last September which dumped snow from Montana to New Mexico and Texas should have warned us that we need to be prepared to expect the unexpected.  It gripped the central portion of America from border to border.  This record setting September 7-9 early-in-season storm dropped snow in a number of locations two weeks before summer had officially ended.

It was one of the earliest snowfalls on record for the Front Range.  This abrupt change occurred just days after a period of record-breaking heat.

A number of locations had their earliest snowfall on record from this storm:

  • One inch of snow on Sept 7, 2020, in Rapid City, bested the previous record earliest snow, there, by four days (Sept. 11, 2014).
  • In the Black Hills, 10 to 15 inches of snow was reported. Parts of the high country of Southern and central Colo. picked up 12 to 16 inches of snow.  The heaviest total from this system was 17 inches just south of Casper, WY.
  • Pueblo, CO, saw its record-earliest snowfall on the morning of Sept. 9, a record that stood since 1898.
  • North Platte, NE, received a trace of sleet early on Sept. 9. That is the earliest first snowfall on record there.
  • Denver International Airport picked up one-inch of snow from this system. The last time snow fell in Denver in Sept. was almost 27 years ago, on Sept. 21, 1994.  The snow in Denver came just days after the city hit an all-time Sept. record high of 101 degrees on Sept. 5.
  • Some wet snow mixed with rain fell briefly in the northern Texas Panhandle. Record cold temperatures were also recorded there.
  • The Sept. 8 “high” temperature in Grand Island, Nebr. (52 degrees), was the coldest daily high so early in the season, topping a record that had stood since Sept. 9, 1898.
  • Albuquerque, NM, set daily record lows for Tuesday, Sept. 8 (42 degrees), and Wednesday, Sept. 9 (40 degrees).
  • Amarillo, TX, dipped as low as 37 degrees on Wednesday morning, making it the coldest temperature on record there so early in the season.


What caused this far-reaching change in our weather pattern?  You guessed it: the polar vortex.  For the past several years, it has now become entrenched in our everyday vocabulary.

It is sometimes referred to as the “jet stream.”  It exists all year, and is responsible for creating and steering the high- and low-pressure systems that bring us our day-to-day weather: storms and blue skies, warm and cold spells.  Way above the jet stream, about 30 miles above the earth, is the stratospheric polar vortex.  This river of wind rings the North Pole, but only forms during the winter months and is usually circular in motion.

Both of these wind features exist because of the large temperature difference between the cold Artic and warmer areas farther south.  Uneven heating creates pressure differences and air (wind) flows from high-pressure to low-pressure areas.  This bone-chilling air rushes southward and leaves behind a warmer-than-normal Arctic.

We are all familiar with that long standing South Dakota weather quote:  “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change.”

The coldest temperature ever recorded in South Dakota was -58o at McIntosh on February 17, 1936.  The hottest temperature of record in South Dakota of 120o was observed at Usta (unincorporated community in Perkins County) on July 15, 2006.

Seventy-eight years ago, a bizarre phenomenon occurred in Spearfish, South Dakota, which caused windows to frost over and crack.  At about 7:30 am on January 22, 1943, warm Chinook winds blew down from the top of the Black Hills which warmed the temperature from -4o to 45o in just two minutes.  This drastic 49o change in temperature set a world record that remains unbroken today.

That bitter record-breaking cold wave which we recently experienced sent shivers down our spines and we all long for the time when ducks and geese will be passing overhead on their journey north.  That cold weather is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

But, just remember, it could be worse.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on March 3, 2021

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