The weather this winter has been extremely harsh, leaving many to ponder the cause for the extraordinarily cold temperatures and seemingly endless snow this year. Most winters in Nebraska are cold, but this year seems to be exceptionally rough. Luckily, there is a scientific explanation for this year’s extraordinary cold temperatures and snowfall.
The primary reason for this above average year is a larger destabilization of the polar vortex than usual due to stratospheric warming that occurs every other year. This happens every winter when the vortex at the North Pole expands, sending cold air southward. The vortex destabilizes when the low pressure system weakens and the jet stream does not have enough force to maintain its normal path. This causes the stream of cold air sitting over the North Pole to become erratic and wavy. Usually, this air only extends as far south as Kansas. This year, the vortex was disrupted so much that arctic air extended as far as southern Texas. Many climate scientists believe this year has been the biggest and longest breakdown of the vortex since scientists started studying these vortexes in the 1950s.
This has been the reason for the frigid temperatures and large snow totals in Nebraska this winter. This was especially evident during the days of February 11 to February 16 when the highest temperature among all those days was 3 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature of this period was a mind bending 32 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. That does not even take in account the wind chills during this period, which reached as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. It was so cold during this period that on Tuesday February 16 it was colder in Columbus, Nebraska than almost anywhere else in the world. This winter, Nebraska has also seen 32 inches of snowfall in just January alone. In comparison, last winter’s snow total for the whole winter was only 17 inches.
However, it seems that winter is possibly behind us and spring is finally here. The extended forecast for the area shows an average temperature of 69 degrees Fahrenheit for the period of Friday March 5th until Friday March 12th. This includes a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of Tuesday, March 9th. Although the weather looks more mild for the week of Friday March 12th until Friday March 19 with an average temperature of 46 degrees Fahrenheit. This truly reflects how any type of weather can be possible in the month of March.
In conclusion, the extremely harsh winter weather this year can be explained due to an overactive polar vortex and natural weather patterns. Luckily, spring weather is just around the corner for Columbus and all of Nebraska.
“What Is a Polar Vortex? | NOAA SciJinks – All about Weather.” Scijinks.gov, 2016,
Borenstein, Seth. “Why Is It so Cold? Also, Why Is It so Warm? Scientists Explain.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 17 Feb. 2021,