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March 2013 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 04/08/13

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March 2013 Climate Summary  

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

Temperature Summary

What a difference a year makes! Just last year, the High Plains Region had its warmest March on record and this year, a persistent and strongly negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation kept temperatures well below normal - not just in the High Plains Region, but also for most of the country. Average temperatures ranged quite a bit from 3.0 degrees F (1.7 degrees C) above normal to 15.0 degrees F (8.3 degrees C) below normal. The southwest to northeast temperature gradient had most locations in Wyoming and Colorado around normal and the eastern half/northern parts of the Region well below normal. The Dakotas had the largest temperature departures in the entire country with 9.0-15.0 degrees F (5.0-8.3 degrees C) below normal.

March ranked in the top 15 coolest for many locations in the northern tier of the Region. For example, Grand Forks, North Dakota had its 6th coolest March on record with an average temperature of 14.2 degrees F (-9.9 degrees C). This was an impressive 11.0 degrees F (6.1 degrees C) below normal but still a far cry from the coldest March on record (period of record 1893-2013). Grand Forks’ coldest March occurred in 1970 with an average temperature of only 9.6 degrees F (-12.4 degrees C). Another chilly location was Aberdeen, South Dakota which had its 7th coolest March with an average temperature of 19.8 degrees F (-6.8 degrees C). The record of 15.1 degrees F (-9.4 degrees C) was set back in 1897 (period of record 1893-2013).

Precipitation Summary

Precipitation was varied across the Region this month. Generally, precipitation was below normal except for northern North Dakota, northeastern Colorado, and pockets of northwestern Wyoming and north-central and eastern Nebraska. Other areas were quite dry and received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. These areas included central and northern South Dakota, the panhandle and central parts of Nebraska, southern and eastern Wyoming, southern Colorado, and a swath from western Kansas through southeast Nebraska. The varied precipitation allowed for top 10 rankings on both the dry and wet sides. For example, a strip of central South Dakota received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation this month. One of the locations in that area was Pierre, South Dakota which had its 10th driest March on record with 0.15 inches (4 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation (period of record 1893-2013). The driest March occurred in both 1909 and 1918 with 0.02 inches (1 mm). Meanwhile, northern North Dakota had precipitation totals over 150 percent of normal. This month’s snowy spot was Williston, North Dakota and with 16.1 inches (41 cm) of snow, Williston had its 6th snowiest March on record (period of record 1894-2013). The 1975 record firmly held with 30.9 inches (78 cm).

Even with the start of spring, snowpack continued to be of concern in the Rockies and also North Dakota. Unfortunately, snowpack in the Rockies continued to be lower than average. As of April 1st, the statewide Colorado snowpack was only 73 percent of average, down from 75 percent at the end of last month. Similarly, the statewide Wyoming snowpack was down 2 percent to 82 percent of average. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a chance for flooding later in the season in the northern areas of the Region. Even though most of the Region was still dealing with the ongoing drought, northern areas of North Dakota have received above normal precipitation which has led to a solid snowpack with high water content. The April outlook shows cool and wet conditions for this area, which would delay the spring snowmelt. Usually, a delayed snowmelt leads to a more rapid thawing. In addition, heavy rain events could occur at the same time as the flooding from the snowmelt, exacerbating the situation. Because of these reasons, outlooks from the National Weather Service indicate that there is a potential for moderate to major flooding along the Red River of the North and the Souris River.

Although precipitation totals fell short in many areas, there were still several storm systems that crossed through the Region. Early in the month, a major winter storm produced snowfall totals up to 18.0 inches (46 cm) in northern and eastern North Dakota. Not even a week later, southern parts of the Region had a storm pass through on March 9-10 which brought rain, freezing rain, sleet, heavy snow, and even thunderstorms. Storm totals topped out at just under a foot (30 cm) and winds of 30-40 mph (48-64 km/hr) caused near white-out conditions which closed parts of I-80 west of Lincoln and cancelled local events. Later, on March 19th a system caused many problems across eastern portions of the Dakotas. Schools were closed and travel became so treacherous that people had to be rescued from stranded cars on I-29 between Fargo and Wahpeton in North Dakota.

Climate Outlook

At the end of March, ENSO-neutral conditions were still present and likely to continue into summer. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for a large portion of the High Plains Region including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, the majority of Wyoming, and the southern half of South Dakota. Meanwhile, the precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of below normal precipitation for western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming. A higher probability of above normal precipitation exists for the far southeastern corner of Nebraska and eastern Kansas. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation exist for the rest of the High Plains 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

Just like February, there were only slight changes to the U.S. Drought Monitor over the past month. Approximately 91 percent of the Region was still in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought - exactly the same percentage as the end of last month. Precipitation was spotty, which allowed for only slight improvements. Some D4 areas in southern South Dakota, northeastern Colorado, northwestern Kansas, and small portions of Nebraska had a one-category improvement which reduced the D4 coverage from 27 percent to 22 percent. Small one-category improvements were also made in eastern Kansas and southwestern Colorado. Unfortunately, conditions worsened in northwestern South Dakota where extreme drought conditions (D3) expanded. Even with some slight improvements, Nebraska remained the hardest hit state with 76 percent of the state in the D4 designation. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released March 21st, drought conditions were expected to improve in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, most of Kansas, northeastern Colorado, and all but the southwest corner of Wyoming. Drought was expected to persist elsewhere through June 2013.

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