The wild temperature swings are courtesy of a potent dip in the jet stream that’s allowed anomalously chilly air to spill south from Canada, overspreading much of the Intermountain West. That same influx of cold air is wrapped up in a powerful storm system that’s unleashing strong winds across parts of the central United States, too.
Where the wind and cold have overlapped, a full-fledged winter storm has been the result for some.
Cold arriving with howling winds
High-wind warnings blanket an enormous corridor of the central Plains, where winds in the wake of a sweeping cold front could gust up to 60 mph at times through Tuesday evening. Some places in the High Plains from west Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle up through western Kansas and eastern Colorado could see isolated 80 mph gusts, according to the National Weather Service.
North Platte, Neb., saw winds gusting over 60 mph for four consecutive hours Tuesday morning, with a gust to 70 mph around 11 a.m. Burlington, Colo., had gusts to 74 mph, while Springfield, about 150 miles south, had gusts to 71 mph.
A dramatic temperature drop is accompanying the front in many areas as the cold air slithers east. In no place has that been more true than in Utah, where record cold temperatures have helped whip up some snow to kick off meteorological summer.
“So far we had at least three record low [minimum temperatures] for [Tuesday morning],” said Christine Kruse, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. “[Monday] we had quite a few, either record low maxima or minima all over the state.”
Days after peaking at a sweltering 100 degrees, Salt Lake City didn’t break 55 degrees on Monday, snagging a record cold “high” temperature for the date. Monday’s low was 42.
“[Historically] we’ve been as cold as 48 for a high in Salt Lake City in June,” Kruse recalled. “That 49 was on June 21, 1916. [Monday’s] official high was seven degrees above that.”
Farther east across the Plains, residents were preparing for the big temperature drop that hadn’t yet occurred. Temperatures could crash to some 30 degrees below average across western Kansas on Tuesday afternoon, with temperatures near 90 degrees on one end of the state and near 50 at the other.
Kruse said the cold that the area was experiencing in Utah to start the week was impressive, but not unheard of.
“In the Intermountain West, it’s not terribly unusual to have a strong cold front come through in June,” said Kruse, who explained that most years feature at least one such boundary moving through the Wasatch Mountains northeast of the Great Salt Lake.
A full-blown snowstorm for some
The wind and snow are combining to yield winter storm conditions in some areas, despite the calendar saying June. Parts of Interstate 80 were shut down in Wyoming after up to a foot of snow fell through Tuesday afternoon.
In Utah, the snow was intense in the high elevations.
“The snow was a little more unusual,” noted Kruse. Alta, a ski area about 12 miles southeast of downtown Salt Lake City, picked up more than a foot of snow on Monday, culminating in a two-day total of 16.6 inches.
“That’s a lot of snow even for Alta. The most they’ve ever had for a one day total in June is 17 inches. This is the third-most they’ve had [for a one day total],” Kruse said.
A few reports of snowflakes mixing in with the rain were even received on the valley floor in the vicinity of Salt Lake City. Kruse said that on the “benches,” elevated steps at the base of the Wasatch Range, light but measurable snow was received.
The same storm brought a dose of snow to pockets of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming over the weekend as well. Snow was even sighted falling like confetti in Truckee, Calif.
A wild week of extremes
For Kruse, the past several days — beginning with the heat and then Saturday’s vicious windstorm that heralded the arriving cold — have been among her most memorable in meteorology.
“What was bizarre about this weekend, we were issuing severe thunderstorm warnings at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning in the west [on Saturday], and that’s not something I can ever remember doing,” she said. “We had golf ball size hail one of the days at like 9:30 a.m.. We did have 75 mph-plus winds in Utah, we had rotating supercells …”
In Utah especially, severe thunderstorms typically occur later in the day, when there’s more energy built up from solar radiation.
Kruse even saw one severe weather signature on radar — a telltale sign of rotation and large hail — that she hadn’t seen as prominently or obviously any time during her 13 years at the office.
For the time being, however, most of the wild weather looks to be winding down. Winds should abate overnight and especially Wednesday, with sunshine and summer like warmth returning to the Four Corners and High Plains by late this week.