A look back at January rainfall and a peek forward at February climatology in the TN Valley

It’s the start of another month, and that means we look at what local climatology for our part of the Tennessee Valley suggests the weather “should” average near, but it’s also the time where we look back at recent stats from the previous month. Our local area’s official NWS climate reporting station is at the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport in Muscle Shoals. Despite being in northwest Alabama, it also does a good job of showing an overall representation of southern middle Tennessee and northwest Alabama as well.

For the month of January, rainfall was significantly above normal. The airport there in Muscle Shoals measured 8.73″ of rain for January, coming in just over 4″ above the normal 4.71″ that is the 30-year running average for the location.

This was the case over the entire area as a whole. Most communities across our viewing area saw between 5″ and 8″ of rainfall for the month of January, with a few locations even coming in between 8″ to almost 10″! Everyone is in a surplus for the past 30 days, and some people significantly so.

With the recent surplus of rain across the area, as well as everybody’s squishy front yard and water levels recently up, you may think that the drought is gone. Not so fast! While yes, there has been major improvement in short-term soil moisture conditions and water levels, we still are in a rainfall deficit when it comes to long-term rainfall numbers. Some areas of southern middle Tennessee are still almost two FEET below normal for rainfall for the past year! Some locations in north Alabama, especially south of the Tennessee River, have had their deficits wiped out though. Drought conditions are calculated by long-term conditions over a given area. There has been significant improvement in overall drought conditions, and one more rainy stretch similar to what we had just over a week ago probably would officially wipe out the drought for most or all areas, but we aren’t quite there yet. However, the spring months coming out of a strong El Nino are usually pretty wet in our area. I would hazard to guess that we’ll probably continue to see significant drought improvement and possible erasing as we head through the next few months.

Now, we look ahead to a new month. February is here. We’re going to take a look at local climatology for our part of the Tennessee Valley from the past 30 years to see what the month of February is often like in our area. Right away, we see that there isn’t too much change from January, at least in the first half of the month. We are still in meteorological winter that runs through the end of this month, and astronomical winter runs all the way into the third week of March. Our average monthly high temperature for February is 56.7 degrees, with it starting as low as 54 at the beginning of the month, and we’re averaging 60 as we head out of February into the start of March! We can certainly get warm this yearly in the year though. Muscle Shoals’ record monthly high for February was 83 degrees, set in 2012! Our monthly average low temperature comes in at 36.7 degrees, but we can still get downright bitter cold too. The monthly record low for the climate reporting station at Muscle Shoals is -13 degrees, set in 1905. February is also usually a wet month when compared to some of the others in the year. This is to be expected with us being in the heart of winter still and dealing with an active southerly jet stream. We average around 4.79″ of precipitation for the month. Some of that can certainly come as ice or snow. The maximum monthly snowfall record at the MSL reporting station was 12″, set in 1910. We will note that, while we certainly sometimes do see large winter storms in the month of February, it is very rare for us to have more than one 6+” snow event in our local area in the same winter, and we already had one last month. While it does certainly sometimes happen, we can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen two or more snow events of that magnitude in the local area in the same winter, going all the way back to records kept in the 1800s! While we can’t rule it out, we can safely say that it’s at least not likely that we’ll see another large snow in our immediate local area this winter. Never say never though!

Anyone who has lived here for a bit of time knows that severe storms and tornadoes are also an occasional concern in the Tennessee Valley during the month of February. Our area’s tornado “season” runs from roughly November (although activity can start in October some years) through late May (although it can last into June some years), and tornadoes are possible during ALL months of the year. Of the winter months of December, January, and February, February has been the most active in our area when looking at long term records. Tornado records tabulated for the NWS Huntsville area are only charted from 1950 to modern day, versus going back to the 1800s from the NWS Nashville numbers, but even HUN’s records show that February is the most active winter month for tornadoes. These are not always small, spin-up low-end tornadoes either. We have multiple (E)F2+ tornadoes on record in our immediate viewing area and in nearby areas across the overall region, and some of these have even been violent (F4/EF4 or greater intensity). Tornadoes that happen during the fall and winter months can sometimes be just as large, violent, and deadly as they are during the heart of the spring! While we don’t see any imminent signs of trouble for the next 7-10 days, we most always be prepared for what the weather can bring in our area.

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