February 2021 North American cold wave

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February 2021 North American cold wave
February 12-19, 2021 map of hours at or under freezing temperatures.png
A map showcasing the magnitude of the extreme cold across North America during the week of February 12–19, 2021
TypeCold wave
FormedFebruary 6, 2021
DissipatedFebruary 22, 2021
Lowest temperature−51.9 °C (−61.4 °F) in Wekweeti, Northwest Territories on February 8[1]
FatalitiesAt least 331[note 1]
Damage≥ $27.575 billion (2021 USD)[2][3][4]
Areas affectedCanada, Central United States, Eastern United States, Northern Mexico

The February 2021 North American cold wave was an extreme weather event that brought record low temperatures to a significant portion of Canada, the United States and parts of northern Mexico during the first half of February 2021. The cold was caused by a southern migration of the polar vortex, likely caused by a sudden stratospheric warming event that occurred the prior month. Temperatures fell as much as 25–50 °F (14-28 °C) below average as far south as the Gulf Coast. Severe winter storms also were associated with the bitter cold, which allowed for heavy snowfall and ice accumulations to places as far south as Houston, Texas, and contributing to one of the snowiest winters ever in some areas in the Deep South.

With the record cold advancing so far south, effects were crippling and widespread. Many regions within the Southern Plains such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas broke or nearly reached record-low temperatures not seen in decades or even a century. In the latter state of Texas, the record cold caused enormous strain on the power grid and froze pipelines, leading millions to lose power and many pipes to burst. At least 278 people were killed directly or indirectly by severe cold,[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] and the damages are estimated to exceed $198.575 billion (2021 USD), including at least $197.075 billion in the United States and $1.5 billion in Mexico.[2][3][4]


As with most cold waves, the origins of the cold wave occurred when the jet stream migrated southward in early February 2021, allowing bitterly cold air from the polar vortex to spill south into the Upper Midwest and Great Plains. The weakening of the jet stream is likely to have been caused by a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event that occurred in early January.[13] However, the effects of this event did not materialize within North America until the pattern began to become unstable near the end of the month. An arctic front then proceeded to usher in the cold air by February 6.

Record temperatures[edit]


On February 7, 2021 Uranium City, Saskatchewan, equaled their all time coldest temperature of −48.9 °C (−56.0 °F) previously recorded on January 15, 1974.[14] In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the high temperature did not rise above -20.0 °C (−4.0 °F) for 9 consecutive days, the longest period since 1996.[15] On February 7, 2021, the International Airport weather station in Edmonton, Alberta, recorded a low temperature of -43.6 °C (−46.5 °F) with two consecutive lows below -40.0 °C (−40.0 °F).[16]

United States[edit]

The cities of Billings, Montana, and Fargo, North Dakota, experienced their longest streak of sub-zero (0 °F [−18 °C]) temperatures since at least 1983 and 1996, respectively.[17][18][19] Des Moines, Iowa, experienced its sixth-coldest February on record with an average temperature of 15.2 °F [−9.3 °C].[20] The city recorded its coldest temperature of the month on the morning of February 16, with a low temperature of −17 °F [−27 °C]. Two days prior, a record-low high of −4 °F [−20 °C] was recorded.[20] On February 16, Little Rock experienced a temperature of −1 °F [−18 °C], which was the coldest since 1989, with all-time low temperatures being set in Fayetteville, Arkansas, (−20 °F [−29 °C]), Hastings, Nebraska (−30 °F [−34 °C]),[21] and Bottineau, North Dakota (−51 °F [−46 °C]).[22] The cities of Salina, Kansas and Chanute, Kansas spent a record amount of time below 20 °F [−7 °C].[23]

Snow cover across the U.S. on the morning of February 19

Texas experienced temperatures over 50 °F [28 °C] below normal. Records more than a century old were broken: on February 16, daily record lows were broken in Oklahoma City (−14 °F [−26 °C], coldest since 1899 and the second-coldest on record), Dallas (−2 °F [−19 °C], coldest since 1930 and the second-coldest on record), Houston (13 °F [−11 °C], coldest since 1989), and San Antonio (12 °F [−11 °C], coldest since 1989). Waco, Texas experienced a record 205 hours of subfreezing temperatures,[24] while Austin experienced a record 164 hours.[25] This put a strain on the state's power grid, resulting in the Southwest Power Pool and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas both instituting rolling blackouts.[26]

Tree limbs and entire trees fell under the weight of the ice, with Salem, Oregon losing 18% of its tree cover.[27] 288,000 households were without electricity in Portland.[28]


In the city of Saltillo, temperatures reached as low as −4.5 °C (23.9 °F) early on February 16 as bitterly cold air surged south from Canada and the United States into the country of Mexico.[29] It was the coldest temperature reported in the city since a cold wave in 2014.


United States[edit]

Texas by far was the state worst affected by the cold wave. A record low temperature at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport of −2 °F (−19 °C) on February 16 was the coldest in North Texas in 72 years.[30] Power equipment in Texas was not winterized, leaving it vulnerable to extended periods of cold weather, leading to widespread power outages.[31][32] Five times as much natural gas as wind power had been lost because of the cold.[33] When power was cut, it disabled some compressors that push gas through pipelines, and the resulting shortage knocked out more gas plants.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parts of Canada recorded -52°C this past weekend, coldest in 4 years, DH News, February 8, 2021
  2. ^ a b 2021 Winter Storm Uri After-Action Review: Findings Report (PDF) (Report). City of Austin & Travis County. November 4, 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 5, 2021. Retrieved November 5, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Global Catastrophe Recap September 2021 (PDF) (Report). Aon Benfield. October 12, 2021. p. 11, 13. Retrieved October 12, 2021.{{cite report}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b "Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Events". NOAA. Retrieved August 30, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ "Accuweather Update". Twitter. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  6. ^ "Pile-up Update". Twitter. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  7. ^ "Ice Accumulations". National Weather Service. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  8. ^ Andrew Weber (July 14, 2021). "Texas Winter Storm Death Toll Goes Up To 210, Including 43 Deaths In Harris County". Houston Public Media. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  9. ^ Jan Wesner Childs (February 18, 2021). "Houston Faces Dire Water Issues as Power Outages, Cold Push Texans To Their Limits". weather.com. The Weather Company. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  10. ^ Estrada, Jesús (February 16, 2021). "Tormenta invernal deja 12 muertos en estados del norte". jornada.com.mx (in Spanish). La Jornada. Archived from the original on February 17, 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  11. ^ Yaron Steinbuch (February 17, 2021). "At least 23 dead as brutal cold from historic storm ravages Texas". New York Post. Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  12. ^ "20 deaths blamed on cold weather in north as another front moves in". Mexico News Daily. February 19, 2021. Retrieved April 27, 2021.
  13. ^ Heim. "Synoptic Discussion - January 2021 - State of the Climate - National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)". noaa.gov. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  14. ^ Giles, David (February 8, 2021). "One of the coldest places in Canada was in Saskatchewan". Global News. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  15. ^ "Daily Data Report for February 2021: WINNIPEG A CS MANITOBA". Environment and Climate Change Canada. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  16. ^ "Daily Data Report for February 2021: EDMONTON INTL ALBERTA". Environment and Climate Change Canada. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
  17. ^ "Tweet". twitter.com. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  18. ^ "Tweet". twitter.com. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  19. ^ "Our Recap of a Frenetic Stretch of Record-Breaking Winter Weather | The Weather Channel - Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com". The Weather Channel.
  20. ^ a b "February 2021 tied for 6th-coldest on record in Des Moines". www.weareiowa.com.
  21. ^ Brandon Miller (February 16, 2021). "These US cities had the coldest morning in decades -- with some reaching all-time record lows". CNN. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  22. ^ A Vivid View of Extreme Weather: Temperature Records in the U.S. in 2021, New York Times, January 11, 2022
  23. ^ Historic 2021 cold outbreak - February 6th - 18th, National Weather Service Wichita, KS
  24. ^ A year later: A look at what caused February 2021′s Arctic blast, waves of wintry weather, KWTX, February 13, 2022
  25. ^ All Weather Records Broken in 2021: Temperatures, Rain and Snowfall, Newsweek, December 15, 2021
  26. ^ "US cold snap: Why is Texas seeing Arctic temperatures?". BBC News. February 15, 2021. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  27. ^ "2021 ice storm took out nearly 18% of Salem tree canopy". opb. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  28. ^ "Mass power outages and lessons learned from the 2021 ice storm". KOIN.com. February 16, 2022. Retrieved April 13, 2022.
  29. ^ "Synop report summary". Saltillo: Ogimet. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  30. ^ "Hundreds of thousands remain without power as more snow is headed to Dallas-Fort Worth on heels of record cold". February 17, 2021. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  31. ^ "Why Winter Storm Uri Caused Millions of Power Outages in Texas". weather.com. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  32. ^ McCullough, Erin Douglas, Kate McGee and Jolie (February 18, 2021). "Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state's power grid vulnerable to winter extremes, experts say". Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  33. ^ Penney, Veronica (February 19, 2021). "How Texas' Power Generation Failed During the Storm, In Charts". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  34. ^ "A Giant Flaw in Texas Blackouts: It Cut Power to Gas Supplies". Bloomberg.com. February 20, 2021. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  1. ^ The death toll and damage is a combination of the February 2021 North American ice storm, February 13-17, 2021 North American winter storm and February 15-20, 2021 North American winter storm, however 3 deaths from the February 13-17, 2021 North American winter storm are excluded because they are tornadic