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March 2012 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 04/05/12

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March 2012 Climate Summary  

For a printable version of the climate summary which includes more figures, data tables, and state summaries, click here

Temperature Summary

The High Plains Region was extremely warm and dry this month. On many days, temperatures were so warm across the Region it felt more like summer than early spring. Based on preliminary data, every station in the Region had above normal temperatures. Monthly temperature departures of 9.0-15.0 degrees F (5.0-8.3 degrees C) above normal were widespread, especially in the eastern portion of the Region. Average monthly temperature records were broken in locations in each state in the Region and most locations beat records that had been in place for over 100 years. For instance, Lincoln, Nebraska had an average temperature of 55.0 degrees F (12.8 degrees C), which was 15.6 degrees F (8.7 degrees C) above normal. Interestingly, this was also 3.8 degrees F (2.1 degrees C) above the April monthly normal temperature! The old March record of 53.4 degrees F (11.9 degrees C) occurred back in 1910 (period of record 1887-2012). For more monthly rankings, please see page 5.

In addition to setting monthly records, over 1,500 daily temperature records were tied or broken in the High Plains Region alone! The extended period of unseasonable warmth led to impressive records, a few of which are highlighted below. In North Dakota, some records were absolutely crushed. On March 16th, Bismarck, North Dakota had a record high of 81.0 degrees F (27.2 degrees C), which was 17.0 degrees F (9.4 degrees C) above the oldrecord of 64.0 degrees F (17.8 degrees C), set in both 1894 and 1981 (period of record 1874-2012). Omaha, Nebraska reached 91.0 degrees F (32.8 degrees C) on March 31st which tied the record for the warmest temperature ever recorded in March (period of record 1871-2012). Minimum temperature records were also broken this month. For example, on March 18th, Fargo, North Dakota had a minimum temperature of 60.0 degrees F (15.6 degrees C), which was 40.0 degrees F (22.2 degrees C) above normal (period of record 1881-2012). The old record of 41.0 degrees F (5.0 degrees C) was smashed!

Impacts of the unprecedented warmth were varied. The warm weather allowed for a quick and very early greenup in some parts. The last freeze of the month in many locations in Nebraska and Kansas occurred on March 9th/10th. This left many wondering about the chances of another spring freeze. If the average last spring freezed ates of mid-April to early-May are any indication, these locations will likely experience another freeze. The warm and dry conditions this month even forced some ski resorts in Colorado to close early, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. There were many reasons for the record warmth this month, including strong southerly winds, a lack of snowpack to the north, a jet stream pattern which kept the cold Arctic air north of the Region, and a positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). When the NAO is positive, areas to the east of the Rockies are typically warmer than normal.

For a more details about the warm March, see www.esrl.gov/psd/csi/events/2012/marchheatwave/index.html.

Precipitation Summary

Overall, March 2012 was a dry month across the High Plains Region. A large area of the Region received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation including large areas of Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. A swath extending from northern Colorado into eastern Wyoming, the panhandle of Nebraska, and southern South Dakota received only 5 percent or less of normal precipitation. The only exceptions were parts of southern Kansas and northern North Dakota which received 150 of normal precipitation.

Many locations in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming ranked in the top 10 driest and least snowiest Marches on record. The dry conditions were quite unusual in some parts of Colorado and Wyoming where March is typically the snowiest month of the year. One impressive example of the lack of snowfall occurred in Winter Park, Colorado which only received 5.0 inches (13 cm) of snow this month. This snowfall total was 28.5 inches (72 cm) below normal and easily beat the old 2002 record of 11.0 inches (28 cm) of snowfall (period of record 1942-2012)! Many locations that typically receive snowfall in March actually received none, including Boulder, Colorado, Denver, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Interestingly, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, not a single March had gone by, since records began in 1871, without a measureable amount of snowfall – until this March. Cheyenne received no measureable precipitation or snowfall this month making this the driest and least snowiest March on record (period of record 1871-2012). The previous record of 0.06 inches (2 mm) of liquid precipitation occurred in both 1880 and 1882. The previous least snowy March occurred in 2004 with only 0.3 inches (1 cm).

Climate Outlook

La Niña conditions are weakening in the equatorial Pacific and are expected to transition to neutral conditions by the end of April. The temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for roughly the southwestern half of Colorado and there are no enhanced probabilities for below normal temperatures. The precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of below normal precipitation for Colorado, the majority of Wyoming, western Kansas, and western Nebraska. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal precipitation and temperature are predicted elsewhere in the Region. The seasonal outlooks combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation
cycle (ENSO). More information about these forecasts can be found here.

Drought Watch

There were many changes to the U.S. Drought Monitor this month. The extreme drought conditions (D3) in southwestern Kansas and extreme southeastern Colorado were nearly entirely downgraded to severe drought conditions (D2). Only a small sliver of D3 remained near the Kansas/Colorado border. Eastern Kansas also had improvements as above normal precipitation led to the erasure of all drought conditions in the eastern half of the state. By the end of the month, only a small area of abnormally dry conditions (D0) remained. Other areas that had improvements included north-central North Dakota, where part of the D0 area was eliminated, eastern South Dakota where the D2 area was trimmed, and northeastern Nebraska and west-central Colorado where moderate drought conditions (D1) were downgraded to D0. While many areas had improvements, other had degradations. A large area of D1 was introduced in western South Dakota and a small area of D2 developed in northwest Colorado. In addition, D0 expanded to include northwestern Kansas, northeastern Colorado, and most of the panhandle of Nebraska. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought outlook, drought conditions were expected to improve in Kansas and the Dakotas. Drought conditions in Colorado were expected to persist or develop.

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