In a state known for hot temperatures, you might be surprised how cold it can get in the Texas panhandle. While “Snowmageddon” of 2021 sent most Texans scrambling for blankets and space heaters, power was a problem for some folks. If you lived through a days-long power outage like we did at home, you probably have a slightly different take on weather extremes.
The good news is that Texas is mostly just hot and humid during the summer. When there’s a storm rolling through we get some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets – so pretty that we can briefly forget about the cold, cold February of 2021.
About the Texas Panhandle
In terms of overall climate, the panhandle is pretty dry. The average annual precipitation totals about 15-28 inches, including rain and snow. It’s part of the high plains and the topography changes from rolling hills to rough country with jagged canyons. Several rivers run through it, including the Brazos and Pecos rivers.
To say that Texas weather is variable is an understatement. On any given day in the state, temperatures can swing by 30 degrees or more depending on the time of year and whether there’s a front coming through the region. The Texas panhandle has the coolest weather in the state, and a small town north of Lubbock holds the record set in 1899.
The panhandle’s average low temperatures in December and January are 21ºF and 19ºF, respectively. However, an average means there’s something both lower and higher. When those cold Arctic blasts come out of the north, cities in the Texas panhandle get really cold.
Wildlife in the Panhandle
Just like the legendary longhorn cattle, wildlife species in the Texas panhandle are resilient. They must be tough – the arid conditions destroy anything that can’t handle the climate.
Badgers, coyotes, and armadillos live in the panhandle; you’ll also find bats, birds, and many other species. Prairie dogs are pretty common in the region and they live in huge colonies. One colony in Texas was reported to contain over 25,000 individuals.
Of course, when you have that many prey animals making their home in one place, you’ll also have predators. Badgers, golden eagles, coyotes, and several hawk species all live in the panhandle and prey on prairie dogs.
Even though the area is dusty and dry, there is life everywhere.
The Tiny Town of Tulia
The county seat of Swisher County, Tulia sits squarely between Amarillo and Lubbock. Its population is a little over 5,000, with a median age of 33.8. This tiny town built its first one-room schoolhouse in 1889 and incorporated in 1909.
Tulia sits at an elevation of 3,484 feet above sea level. It’s in an area between the Llano Estacado and the Caprock Escarpment. The town was also a stopping point for early settlers traveling to the Colorado railheads.
Although it’s over 100 years old, it’s still a small town. Like other parts of the Texas panhandle, has relatively cool average temperatures. During the summer, the averages range from a high of 91ºF and a low of 61ºF. Their winters are pretty cool, with an average high of 52ºF and an average low temperature of 27ºF.
Arctic Blast of 1899
No, 2021 was not the worst on record – it was really cold and some of our power infrastructure failed, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power for days on end. There’s no doubt that it was bad. However, as cold goes, 1989 came close to the worst, but still didn’t quite beat 1899.
Texas, unlike the more northern states, doesn’t have outrageously cold Decembers. Instead, it’s January and February that will get you. Nearly all of the record cold snaps in the Lone Star State happened in January or February.
Officially, Tulia has the record for the lowest temperature in Texas. There are a few unconfirmed reports of lower temperatures, but the tiny town of Tulia made the official low temp record with -23ºF in February of that year. Years later, in 1933 Seminole, Texas tied the record set in Tulia.
What about 2021? Tulia got cold, just like the rest of Texas. However, it didn’t beat its record. Snowmageddon 2021 only made it drop to -5ºF on February 15.
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- USA Today - AZ Central, Available here: https://getawaytips.azcentral.com/cities-with-the-coolest-temperatures-in-texas-12394403.html