The Historic Anomalous Temperature Event of March 2012

By: Christopher C. Burt , 9:27 PM GMT on March 23, 2012

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The Historic Anomalous Temperature Event of March 2012

What is probably the most extraordinary anomalous heat event in U.S. (and portions of Canada) history has finally begun to slacken at the time of this writing (March 23rd). Never before has such an extended period of temperatures so far above normal been recorded. Here is a summary of some of the statistics so far. To quote what Weather Bureau officials stated in March 1910, "Never since the Weather Bureau was established has there been such an early opening of spring." That event in 1910 has been surpassed this month as the most intense such in our nation's history. As the Caribou, Maine NWS office posted on March 22nd: “TO PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE...THIS WAS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME WARM SPELL FOR MARCH...AND NOT JUST HERE BUT ACROSS MUCH OF THE NORTHERN TIER OF THE U.S.”




A stubborn omega pattern that persisted for almost three weeks across the nation was the cause of the anomalous warmth. Graphic from NWS Milwaukee office.

All-time March Monthly Heat Records Broken

Below is a list of some of the monthly records broken at a selection of sites with long periods of record.

NORTH DAKOTA

Bismarck 81° 3/16 (ties old record several occasions)

SOUTH DAKOTA

Pierre 88° 3/18 (old record 87° several occasions)

A reading of 94° was reported from Winner on 3/18. This is the warmest reading recorded during the heat wave at any location, but short of the South Dakota March record of 96° set at Tyndall in March 1943.

MINNESOTA

Int’l Falls 79° 3/18 (old record 73° on 3/31/1963)





Minnesota’s normally substantial March snow pack completely disappeared over the course of just two weeks from March 8-22. Map graphic from NWS Duluth office.

WISCONSIN

Madison 83° 3/21 (old record 82° several occasions)

Milwaukee 84° 3/21 (old record 83° on 3/20/2012)

Green Bay 82° 3/21 (ties old record on 3/29/1910)

A temperature of 88° may have been recorded at a COOP site near Waupaca on 3/18. If verified this would beat the existing state record for March heat of 86° recorded at Prairie du Chien and Dodge on 3/29/1986.

ILLINOIS

Chicago fell short 1° of record (88° 3/31/1986) with 87° on 3/21

MICHIGAN

Saginaw 87° 3/21 (old record 83° 3/24/1910)


Detroit 86° 3/22 (old record 82° 3/28/1945)

Flint 86° 3/21 (old record 83° 3/22/1938)

Traverse City 87° 3/21 (old record 82° 3/29/1910)

Grand Rapids 87° 3/21 (old record 82° 3/29/1910)

Lansing 86° 3/21 (old record 82° 3/24/1910)

Marquette 81° 3/21 (old record 71° 3/8/2000)

*Marquette’s record heat anomaly is almost beyond belief as can be read in this report. Their 47” snow pack on March 5th melted away to nothing in just two short weeks.

Muskegon 82° 3/21 (old record 80° 3/31/1981)

Sault Ste. Marie 83° 3/21 (old record 75° 3/28/1946)

Alpena 87° 3/21 (old record 80° 3/8/2000)

NOTE: Basically, every site in Michigan broke their March heat record during this event. The list of cities is too long to include all herein. The state record for March was broken at Lapeer on 3/21 when a reading of 90° was measured (previous record was 89°, also at Lapeer in 1910).

INDIANA

Fort Wayne 87° 3/21 (old record 3/24/1910)

South Bend 85° 3/21 (ties 3/31/1981)


OHIO

Cleveland 83° 3/21 (ties old record set in 3/28/1945)

Akron 83° 3/22 (old record 82° 3/24/1910)

Mansfield 84° 3/22 (old record 82° 3/30/1986)

Toledo 85° 3/21 (old record 83° 3/24/1910)

Columbus 85° 3/22 (old record 82° 3/24/1910)

Dayton 86° 3/21 (old record date unknown)

NEW YORK

Buffalo 82° 3/21 (old record 81° 3/28/1945)

VERMONT

Springfield reached 83° on 3/22. One degree short of the state March heat record.

There may have been other records set in Vermont but the NWS historical records for Vermont are practically non-existent. Curiously, Vermont is one of the, if not THE most difficult state in the U.S. to find extreme weather records. Data in this regard only exists for Burlington (which did not break its March heat record—81° on 3/21 and 3/22). The only source for Vermont weather records is David Ludlum’s ‘The Vermont Weather Book’ published in 1985 by the Vermont Historical Society. In this book 84° is listed as the state March heat record (at Bennington 3/29, 1945 and Burlington March 29, 1946—also recorded on March 31, 1998 after the publication of Dr. Ludlum’s book). Perhaps somebody could make this a worthy project! The ‘Northeast Regional Climate Center’ has no climate summaries available for specific stations (aside from a handful of major cities), unlike all the other regional climate centers.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Berlin 80° 3/22 (tied with 3/30/1998)

First Connecticut Lake 77° 3/22 (old record 73° date NA)

Like Vermont, New Hampshire is very difficult to research extreme weather records. However, the famous heat day of March 31, 1998 probably stands clear of most records yet measured so far this March at any location. For instance, it was 89° at Concord, Durham, and Greenland on that day.

MAINE

Caribou 75° 3/21 (old record 73° 3/30/1998)

Houlton 79° 3/21 (old record 72° 3/30/1998)

Bangor 84° 3/22 (old record 79° 3/29/1946)

CANADA

Historical weather records for March heat were smashed over a large portion of eastern Canada. Here are a few of the highlights:

Ottawa, Ontario 27.4°C (81.3F°) 3/21 (old record 26.7°C/80.1°F 3/29/1946

Windsor, Ontario 27.0° (80.6F°) 3/21 (old record 26.6°C/79.9°F 3/28/1945)

Kapuskasing, Ontario 26.2°C (79.2F°) 3/20 (old record 19.4°C/66.9° 3/25/1945)

Winnipeg, Manitoba 24.0°C (75.2°F) 3/19 (old record 23.3°C/73.9°F 3/27/1946)

Montreal, Quebec 25.8°C (78.4F°) 3/21 (old record 25.6°C/78.1°F 3/28/1945)

Quebec City, Quebec 18.3°C (64.9F°) 3/21 (old record 17.8°C/64.0°F 3/30/1962)

St. John, New Brunswick 27.2°C (81.0F°) 3/21 (old record 16.8°C/62.2°F 3/29/1999)

Halifax, Nova Scotia 27.2°C (81.0°F) 3/22 (old record 25.6°C/78.1°F 3/31/1998)

At St. John this March record was warmer than their all-time April monthly heat record!

Western Head, Nova Scotia recorded 29.2°C (84.6°F) on 3/22, the warmest temperature ever recorded in March in Nova Scotia and the 3rd warmest March temperature on record for all of Canada. It surpassed its previous daily record high of 10.6°C (51.1°F) by an astonishing 18.6°C (33.5°F)!

Temperature Anomalies and Duration of Heat Wave

Impressive as all the specific temperature records broken listed above may be, it was the persistence of the record warmth and the amazing departures from normal seasonal temperatures that were the most notable aspect of this heat event.

International Falls, Minnesota broke or tied its daily record maximum temperatures for an amazing 10 consecutive days from March 13-22. This is the longest such stretch at a site with 100 years of record that I am aware of. The previous record length was at Tulsa, Oklahoma with a 9-day consecutive stretch of daily record highs June 2-10, 1911. The old Tulsa record was also matched by Chicago, Illinois where daily high records were broken or tied from March 14-22:



Note all the record warm daily lows. This is another remarkable aspect of the March heat event, not just in Chicago but everywhere else in the affected region as well. Table from NWS Chicago office.

Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana also broke their daily high records for 9 consecutive days. The departure from normal was simply astounding. On March 21st Traverse City, Michigan averaged 42° above normal with a daily high/low of 87°/62°. That date’s average is 42°/23°. The low temperature of 62° was 4° warmer than the previous record daily high temperature! Other examples of the daily lows breaking or tying their previous record daily highs are listed in posted on March 22.

Pelston, Michigan seems to have taken the cake so far as having the single most anomalous departure from normal of any site during the heat wave when it was 44° above average on March 21st.

The other extraordinary element of the heat event is that it began during the first half of the month of March. Virtually every weather station from the Dakotas to New England in the northern third of the nation recorded their warmest temperatures for so early in the season ever measured. Madison, Wisconsin recorded 82° on March 15th, a full two weeks earlier than its previous first 80° reading (March 29, 1910). Since records at Madison began in 1869 there have only been 10 days with 80°+ temperatures during March. Of those, 5 of them occurred this March! This is comparable to the cool July of 2009 when Madison had just seven 80°+ days and a high of 82° that month. It reached 83° in Madison this March.

In another week or so we will be able to look at the monthly March data for the U.S. and begin to tally the list of all the cities that have recorded their warmest March on record. It is bound to be an impressive list. Here is how the nation has fared for the 30 days ending on March 22 so far:



Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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10. blairtrewin
10:55 AM GMT on March 26, 2012
Probably impossible to determine in any sort of objective manner (at least with the data we have available to us at present), but I wonder if there is any precedent for an event of this type anywhere in the world? I certainly can't imagine that monthly records get broken by more than 10 degrees C (as occurred at Saint John, NB) very often. My very subjective view is that in statistical terms (if not in impact), this event is every bit as far off the scale as Russia 2010 or central Europe 2003.

The closest Australian analogue I can think of is the late winter August 2009 event (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/statements/ scs18b.pdf) which mostly affected Queensland, the Northern Territory and the northern half of New South Wales (there are places which were hotter in that event than they have been in any of the three following summers), but the most a monthly record got broken by there was about 5 C.
Member Since: October 25, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 38
9. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
11:53 PM GMT on March 25, 2012
An amazing fact, similar to the Madison, Wisconsin 80°+ blitz of five 80°+ readings this March when only a TOTAL of five other 80°+ days prior to this March (and since 1869) ever reached that mark. Just crazy!

Quoting Neapolitan:
Thanks, Chris, for yet another excellent post.

There were so many records set over the past two weeks that it's very difficult to nail down the scope of the event with just one or two of them. But the one that I keep coming back to time after time is this: from 1871 all the way up through 2011--141 years--Chicago experienced a total of ten March days at or above 80 degrees. But over the past two weeks, Chicago hit that mark eight times.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 316 Comments: 296
8. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
11:50 PM GMT on March 25, 2012
Jeff and I just got condfirmation from the NWS that the Winner, SD figure of 94° was a glitch in their automoted system at Winner and they estimate the actual high was just 87°.

Quoting robsobs:
Chris..

What is your opinion on that 94F reading at Winner, SD on the 18th? To me, it seemed suspiciously high based on nearby obs which were around 84-88F that day. No one else in SD reached 90F on the 18th, so 94F seemed like a bit of an outlier. Just curious.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 316 Comments: 296
7. Neapolitan
8:21 PM GMT on March 25, 2012
Thanks, Chris, for yet another excellent post.

There were so many records set over the past two weeks that it's very difficult to nail down the scope of the event with just one or two of them. But the one that I keep coming back to time after time is this: from 1871 all the way up through 2011--141 years--Chicago experienced a total of ten March days at or above 80 degrees. But over the past two weeks, Chicago hit that mark eight times.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13732
6. summitvoice
7:54 PM GMT on March 25, 2012
The first map does not seem to accurately reflect conditions in west-central Colorado, where we were also under high pressure for much of the period, with record high temps on some days, and temps running 10 - 20 degrees above average for most of the period. Not denying the extent and persistence of the heat wave, just wondering about the mapping ...
Member Since: February 8, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
5. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
3:52 AM GMT on March 25, 2012
Good question. The ASOS that day did display the 94° temp at Winner. But now NWS Aberdeen seems to have just 88°. So I'd say the 94° figure is suspect!

Quoting robsobs:
Chris..

What is your opinion on that 94F reading at Winner, SD on the 18th? To me, it seemed suspiciously high based on nearby obs which were around 84-88F that day. No one else in SD reached 90F on the 18th, so 94F seemed like a bit of an outlier. Just curious.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 316 Comments: 296
4. robsobs
12:24 AM GMT on March 25, 2012
Chris..

What is your opinion on that 94F reading at Winner, SD on the 18th? To me, it seemed suspiciously high based on nearby obs which were around 84-88F that day. No one else in SD reached 90F on the 18th, so 94F seemed like a bit of an outlier. Just curious.
Member Since: December 20, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 12
3. panamint
9:34 AM GMT on March 24, 2012
Regarding New Hampshire and Vermont, NWS may not have much data available, but the NCDC/NOAA has data online at http://www7.ncdc.noaa.gov/CDO/cdoextremescountryse lect.cmd?exdsid=31 (and then some clicking) and the Western Region Climate Center also has data, at http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/summary/me_nh_vtF.html.

I believe the Vermont March record is 88° at Salisbury and Union Village, 3/31/1998. New Hampshire 89° was also recorded at Epping on the same day. Wisconsin reached 89° at Prairie du Chien on 3/29/1895.

I'm sure many more records will fall when the March returns are completed.
Member Since: March 27, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 4
2. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:20 AM GMT on March 24, 2012
the heat will come with a great price
nature can be sweet but mostly very cruel
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55539
1. Birthmark
1:23 AM GMT on March 24, 2012
It's just astonishing how intense the heat was for this time of year. There really isn't much for a layman to say beyond, "Wow!"
Member Since: October 30, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 5469

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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.