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Arctic blast

A severe arctic outbreak is set to rock the country this week as a series of arctic fronts drop into Texas.
Credit: Joanie Vasiliadis


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HOUSTON — Valentine's Day has a very storied past in Southeast Texas and is no stranger to bizarre winter happenings.

In fact, the worst arctic chill ever observed in Houston happened mid-February 1899 when the daytime high only reached 20 degrees and an overnight low of 6 degrees on not just one night, but two consecutive nights.

Also, the biggest snowstorm known to have hit the area also happened on Valentine's Day in 1895, when 20 inches of the white stuff fell on downtown Houston and 15 inches fell on Galveston Island. So am I surprised that we could be looking at a significant cold blast this Valentine's Day? Nope, doesn't shock me one bit.

RELATED: View latest Houston forecast, live radar images here

A potential hazardous and disruptive freeze is looking more and more possible for Houston this coming weekend and into next week, thanks to a series of arctic fronts that are set to move out of Siberia, through Canada and into the U.S. Some of the coldest daytime highs we've seen in years will be possible along with the potential for several days of wintry, cold weather.

How cold is the 'coldest in years?'

Put simply, some models, including the GFS, Canadian and ICON (a German model) are frighteningly cold with highs only reaching the mid-20s. The last time high temperatures failed to reach 30 degrees in Houston was in December 1989. While highs in the 20s still seem like a bit of a stretch, the potential does exist for one or several days only reaching 31 or 32 degrees, still enough to be the coldest daytime highs since 2011.

Overnight lows, depending on what model you look at, range from the low teens to mid-20s. Either way, we'll easily see the coldest temperatures of the winter season and possibly the coldest in at least three years if overnight lows drop into the teens.

Is it going to snow?

It might, but sleet and freezing rain is the most likely outcome. The reason why is because the arctic air, by its very nature, is very thin and hugs the surface to a depth of only 1,000 to 2,000 feet. That's far too shallow for snowflakes to survive the trip from the upper atmosphere to the surface. Several disturbances are primed to move through the area when the coldest air is locked in place. If we get wintry weather, it'll almost certainly fall in the form of sleet or freezing rain. Given how cold the temperatures are likely to be at this time, we could see ice on roadways Sunday night into Monday morning.

Monday gets interesting, with the possibility of a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow as we move through Presidents Day. If this forecast verifies you'll want to stay home and off the roads.

What could go wrong with forecasting this event? Everything. Arctic air is very shallow and dense and is difficult for models to see. Often times in these setups, the temperatures get colder faster and is colder than forecast because the models just can't grasp the shallowness of the air mass. 

It's a good idea to stay close to us and the forecast changes over the next several days.

What should you do now?

Now is the time to be thinking about your sprinkler systems, your exposed pipes on the outside of your home or even in the attic. Make sure they're insulated and wrapped up. If the worst should happen, we could be dealing with big issues with frozen, broken pipes. So just make sure they're ready to go.

Other than that, continue to check back with us to keep updated on the forecast. The outlook will continue to change with each update of the computer models and the 7-day will go through many fluctuations over the coming days.

Have ice/snow/weather photos or video?

Don't put yourself in danger, but if you happen to get severe weather photos or video (or breaking news), remember you can always send them to KHOU 11 easily using the Near Me function in our mobile app.

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