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March 2014 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 04/05/14

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March 2014 Climate Summary  

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

Temperature Summary

March 2014 was another chilly month for the High Plains Region. The first two days of the month were filled with record setting cold as many daily maximum and minimum temperature records were broken. One interesting record came from Grand Forks, North Dakota (period of record 1893-2014). On March 1, Grand Forks had a high temperature of only -11.0 degrees F (-23.9 degrees C). This not only set a new record lowest maximum temperature for the day, but also for the entire month of March. The old record of -6.0 degrees F (-21.1 degrees C) set on March 23, 1974 was crushed! Ultimately, most of the first week of March was extremely cold for the eastern half of the Region with temperature departures ranging from 15.0-25.0 degrees F (8.3-13.9 degrees C) below normal across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Following the general pattern from last month, northwest flow brought many cold snaps which resulted in below normal temperatures for the eastern half of the Region. Most of the western side of the Region was unaffected and ended the month near to above normal. In general, departures ranged from 4.0 degrees F (2.2 degrees C) above normal in the west up to 6.0 degrees F (3.3 degrees C) below normal in the east. The largest departures, up to 10.0 degrees F (5.6 degrees C) below normal, occurred in northeastern North Dakota; however these were not record breaking. Again, take Grand Forks for example. The month was 7.4 degrees F (4.1 degrees C) below normal, but
this only ranked as the 28th coolest March on record there.

Precipitation Summary

It was a dry month for most of the High Plains Region. The majorityof the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas were quite dry with precipitation totals largely below 50 percent of normal. A large area of eastern Nebraska and central Kansas received at best 25 percent of normal precipitation. Now that winter is over, precipitation deficits can accumulate quite quickly and this lack of precipitation led to the reemergence of drought conditions in eastern parts of Nebraska and Kansas. Luckily the spring green-up is lagging due to the cooler temperatures and demand for water has not been high. One of the drier locations this month was Lincoln, Nebraska which tied for its 5th driest March on record with only 0.13 inches (0.3 mm) of precipitation (period of record 1887-2014). Not only was this the driest month in the past year, this was the driest month for Lincoln since October 2010. The driest March occurred in 1994 with 0.06 inches (0.2 mm).

The only areas receiving ample precipitation were northern and central Wyoming and north-central Colorado. The northwest corner of Wyoming was particularly wet with precipitation totals over 200 percent of normal. One of the stations in Yellowstone National Park called Snake River had its 4th wettest March on record with 6.29 inches (16 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation (period of record 1905-2014). The record occurred in 1932 with 7.56 inches (19 mm).

Although the month as a whole was on the drier side, there were some storm systems that impacted parts of the Region. For instance, the month ended with quite a storm for parts of the Dakotas. Snowfall totals of 6.0-10.0 inches (15-25 cm) were widespread with locally heavier amounts as well. The snow was accompanied by high winds which created blizzard conditions that made travel quite hazardous. I-29 was closed from South Dakota all the way to the Canadian border as was I-94 from Fargo to Jamestown. In addition, several school districts in both North Dakota and South Dakota either closed or had early release due to the conditions.

The snowpack continued to build over the past month with both Colorado and Wyoming increasing their statewide totals. Like last month, the southern basins in Colorado were still running below average, but other basins were near to above normal. This brought Colorado’s statewide average at the end of March to 114 percent - up slightly from last month’s 111 percent. Meanwhile, every basin in Wyoming was above average with the statewide snowpack at 138 percent of average, also up from last month’s 132 percent. This ample snowpack in the Rockies is in stark contrast to the past two years when the snowpack was well below normal. This snowpack may draw memories of the 2011 flooding, however that is rather unlikely at this time. The 2011 Missouri River
flooding was due to a number of factors, of which the snowpack was only one. For instance, record May precipitation in Montana greatly contributed to the flooding. Also, this year there is additional flood storage as a result of the 2012 drought.

Climate Outlook

ENSO-neutral conditions continued this month; however there is a 50 percent chance that El Niño conditions will develop later this year in the summer or fall. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures across southern areas of Colorado and Kansas. A higher probability of below normal temperatures exists for all of North Dakota, the northern half of South Dakota, and a small portion of northern Wyoming. Areas in between have equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures. The precipitation outlook shows no indications of either a wetter or drier spring as there are equal chances of above, near, or below normal precipitation for the entire 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

The first month of spring did not bring much needed precipitation to the drought areas of the High Plains Region. Most areas of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. A large area of the eastern sides of Kansas and Nebraska received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation which led to degradations. Much of eastern Kansas went from abnormally dry conditions (D0) to moderate drought conditions (D1). The extreme drought conditions (D3) in the western part of the state expanded as well. In Nebraska, severe drought conditions (D2) expanded eastward and a new area of D1 developed in the southeast. The only areas with improvements were eastern Wyoming and central Colorado where ample precipitation has fallen. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released March 20th, current drought conditions are expected to persist across eastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas through June. Meanwhile, drought conditions may improve or be eliminated in other parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Further drought development is not expected at this time.

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