We’re finishing February with more unseasonable warmth, and will begin March the same way before a cold front turns our weather around again. This sort of highly variable pattern is quite typical of spring, and that season seems to have arrived a bit early with February ranking – up to now – among Columbus’s warmest in modern records (since 1948). The record is 57.9ºF in 1957, and through Monday we are at 57.5º.
Before temperatures can climb, though, we'll have to get rid of the low overcast and fog that formed overnight over much of the area. One factor in that was the rain that fell on Columbus Monday afternoon and evening; a total of .35" was recorded at the airport and the moisture left behind by the rain contributed to the fog that limited visibilities to fractions of a mile at many locations Tuesday morning.
Assuming the clouds break, though, highs today or Wednesday could reach 80 degrees as we will be in the warm sector of a cold front. This front is part of a storm system featuring a surface low racing toward the Great Lakes and the trailing front surging across the South. Just ahead of the front there will be strong storms, mostly concentrated to our north, but a squall line of rain and thunderstorms is likely to accompany the front all the way to Columbus and beyond, arriving Wednesday evening and passing through quickly during the night. Per the Storm Prediction Center our area (as of Tuesday) is in a marginal to slight risk for a few thunderstorms to reach severe levels, with damaging straight-line winds the primary threat along the fast-moving line.
Behind the front, high pressure with cooler, drier air will take over for the balance of the week, leaving us with several sunny days. Temperatures will revert to near normal readings with highs in the 60s and lows that could reach the 30s as the air mass is of Pacific rather than Arctic or Canadian origin, the Deep South thus thus avoiding any extreme cold.
With the end of February, meteorological winter comes to a close. March, April, and May are considered spring months for weather and climate purposes, so on Wednesday, March 1 we will enter meteorological spring. The astronomical beginning of spring is considered to occur on the vernal equinox, which this year will be March 20 when the sun’s direct rays fall over the equator, and day and night are theoretically equal around the globe.
A few notes about this time of year: it seems like the February-March transition is recently prone to some crazy weather. Ten years ago on March 1, 2007 a tornado went through North Columbus, hitting the Brookstone area the hardest. We were lucky - a stronger EF-4 tornado struck Enterprise, Alabama that same day, and that evening an EF-3 ripped through Americus, Georgia, both causing fatalities. Two years later, we had severe storms on February 28, 2009 that produced a tornado near Salem, Alabama in Lee County, then the next day we kicked off March with a major snowfall of up to 6½ inches in spots.
So with the threat - albeit a small one for us - of severe thunderstorms on Wednesday, let's hope this March 1 does not turn out to be a headline-maker.
Kurt Schmitz, Senior Meteorologist