Warm March Weather Shatters Records Across U.S., 'Freak Event' Had A 'Freak Ancestor'

  on April 04 2012 5:09 PM

They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but that certainly wasn't the case for most of the United States. Warm weather led to record temperatures in more than 90 cities across the country -- many of which experienced a very dry winter as well, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

More than 7,700 high temperature records were set or tied in March, compared to 287 record lows, according to the NOAA. In many places, daily lows topped record highs from previous years and made it seem as though summer had come early.

To have as many [80-degree days] as we did is just unbelievable and historic and unprecedented, Richard Castro, a Chicago meteorologist, told the Chicago Tribune. Summer in March is basically what we had.

The weather was caused by warm air from the Gulf of Mexico being constantly sent up by a persistent warm wind. Low pressure in the Northwest and high pressure in New England created a channel for warm air from the gulf, 15 to 20 degrees warmer than air in the Midwest, to flow, a once in a century event.

It is a freak event that appeared to have perhaps a freak ancestor, 1910, NOAA meteorologist Martin Hoerling told the Associated Press. Climate change was certainly a factor, but it was a minor factor.

While much of the country was enjoying the warmth, the West Coast and part of the Southwest were cooler and wetter than normal.

March temperatures were 10 degrees above average in most cities and were just as warm, if not warmer, than typical April temperatures. Some places saw the temperatures 15 degrees above average become the norm.

'Why wouldn't we embrace it as a darn good outcome, Hoerling said. This was not the wicked wind of the east. This was the good wind of the south.

Since 2001, March has been 2 degrees warmer than it was between 1960 and 1990, according to the NOAA, so the 10 degrees seen this year is a large jump. But people worried about a warm March predicting a hot June shouldn't worry, Hoerling said. There is very little correlation between the two.

Castro echoed his statement.

It would be hard to have something as extreme as March, he told the Chicago Tribune. I'd say the odds favor above normal [temperatures], but not as far above normal.

Although Hoerling doesn't attribute the record highs this March to climate change, Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State University, said global warming could make this freak occurrence more common.

This winter and spring we're breaking warmth records at more than 10 times the rate we'd expect naturally, Mann told the Associated Press. So while it is true that individual weather events represent the random rolls of the weather dice, human-caused climate change has loaded those dice. That's why we're seeing 'sixes' come up far more often than we'd expect from chance alone.

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