Weather Extremes

The Historic Anomalous Temperature Event of March 2012

By: weatherhistorian, 9:27 PM GMT on March 23, 2012

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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).


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

South Bend 85° 3/21 (ties 3/31/1981)


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)


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


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.


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.


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)


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


Updated: 4:23 AM GMT on March 24, 2012


The Great Blizzard of 1888; America’s Greatest Snow Disaster

By: weatherhistorian, 9:50 PM GMT on March 15, 2012

The Great Blizzard of 1888; America’s Greatest Snow Disaster

As temperatures soared into the mid-70°s this week in New York City, it is hard to believe this is the 124th anniversary of New York’s and America’s worst blizzard on record (and happens to share the same days as this year). The temperature in the city fell to 6° during the storm on March 13th, the coldest temperature ever measured there so late in the season. Few storms are as iconic as the famous blizzard of’88. It was the deadliest, snowiest, and most unusual winter storm in American annals. No storm of similar magnitude has ever occurred anywhere in the contiguous United States since. Over 400 perished including 200 in New York City alone, many literally buried in drifts in downtown Manhattan. Here is a recap of this famous event.

A snowdrift tunnel in Farmington, Connecticut with six feet of headroom. New York Historical Society.

The Winter of 1888: ‘The Children’s Blizzard’

January of 1888 saw the most intense cold wave on record impact the Inter-mountain west and Northwest portions of the country. This spread eastward during the third week of the month bringing additional all-time cold records to the upper Midwest.
Some of the all-time coldest temperatures recorded in January 1888 that still stand today include the following:

20° at Eureka, California on Jan. 14

-24° at Lakeview, Oregon on Jan. 15

-6° at Roseburg, Oregon on Jan. 16

-28° at Boise, Idaho on Jan. 16

-42° at Missoula, Montana on Jan. 16

-36° at Ely, Nevada on Jan. 16

-30° at Spokane, Washington on Jan. 16

-41° at St. Paul (Minneapolis), Minnesota on Jan. 21

-36° at Green Bay, Wisconsin on Jan. 21

The coldest temperature during the month was a -56.8° at Poplar River, Montana on January 15th. Of course, there were very few weather stations in the far west and Rocky Mountain areas in 1888, so many other locations would probably have had record low temperatures if they had observation sites at that early date.

The cold wave was preceded by a terrific blizzard in the upper Plains and Midwest on January 12-13. Known as ‘The Children’s Blizzard’ (as immortalized by David Laskin in his superb book of the same name) approximately 200-250 settlers died from exposure, mostly children trapped in the storm on their way home from isolated prairie schools in South Dakota and Minnesota. Ironically, this was probably the second deadliest blizzard in U.S. history aside from the east coast storm that this blog focuses on.

The Great Blizzard of March 12-14, 1888

As Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini noted in their classic compendium Northeast Snowstorms (published by the American Meteorological Society) the Blizzard of ’88 was a “unique storm” for several reasons. Firstly, most severe winter storms that affect the Northeast are preceded by an outbreak of cold air across the eastern U.S., usually centered over northern New England or southern Canada. No such air mass was in place prior to the development of the storm. Secondly, the storm center became stationary and actually made a counterclockwise loop off the coast of southern New England while maintaining its peak intensity (with a central pressure of approximately 980 mb). Instead of moving along the usual SW to NE path that severe winter storms follow, the low-pressure center just gradually filled in and dissipated, eventually drifting slowly out to sea.

This map illustrates the track of the storm and how it meandered for 48 hours off the southern New England coast. Graphic by Paul Kocin.

Below are some synoptic maps of the storm;

Synoptic maps for March 11-13 showing the evolution of the storm. Reproduced from ‘Northeast Snowstorms’ by Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini.

A detail of the synoptic map for 7 a.m. EST on March 12 as the storm began to reach its peak intensity in New York City. Graphic from ‘Blizzard: The Great Storm of ‘88’ by Judd Caplovich.

In New York City the rain turned to snow at 1 a.m. on Monday March 12 when the temperature fell to freezing. Blizzard conditions quickly developed as the wind rose to a sustained 50 mph. By 8 a.m. the city was completely immobilized by the blinding, drifting snow and howling winds. All telegraph communications went down and the elevated rail line ground to a halt with one train derailing and killing several passengers and crew. Walking in the streets became not only impossible but also deadly. Of the 200 people who perished in New York City most were found buried in snowdrifts along the city’s sidewalks. One of these victims was Senator Roscoe Conkling, a New York Republican Party kingpin and aspirant for the White House presidency. He died as a result of ‘over exposure’ from trying to walk from his Wall Street office to the New York Club on Madison Square.

One of the only known photographs taken in Manhattan during the height of the blizzard itself. This is Wall Street. Note the broken telegraph pole on the right. New York Historical Society.

Refugee’s filled all the hotels. The venerable Astor Hotel set up 100 cots in its lobby when it became apparent by sunset that day that venturing outside was still impossible, the temperature had fallen to 8° by sunset, the wind was still howling and snowdrifts up to 20’ filled the streets of the city.

The storm was even more severe in areas north and east of New York City. 50 trains became stranded between Albany and NYC, on Long Island, New Jersey, and in Connecticut. Many were derailed after trying to plow through drifts measured up to 38’ in Connecticut (this drift measured in a rail line cut near Cheshire). 40-foot drifts were reported from Bangall, a small town in Dutchess County, New York. Many of the other 200 fatalities attributed to the blizzard consisted of passengers and train crews that attempted to walk to nearby towns after their trains became stalled or derailed.

The Sussex River Railroad passenger train derailed near Andover, New Jersey. It took two days before rescue crews could reach the survivors. The New Jersey Historical Society.

Several ships foundered at sea, lost to 90 mph winds, huge seas, and deck ice accumulations that caused them to rollover from the top-heavy weight.

How Much snow fell?

The maximum point accumulation from the storm was 58” measured at Saratoga Springs north of Albany, New York. Albany itself recorded 47”. Troy, New York measured 55”.

An amazing 55” of snow (on level) buried Troy, New York during the storm. Here, drifts reach the second story in an alleyway in the city. Rensselaer County Historical Society.

New York City’s official accumulation was stated as 21” in Manhattan, but up to 36” fell in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. New Haven, Connecticut received 42” and Hartford at least 36” (this figure was estimated since the official weather site for the city was located on a hill where only 19” was recorded since high winds blew the most of the snow away).

State maximums were as follows:

New York: 58” at Saratoga Springs

Connecticut: 50” at Middleton

Vermont: 48” at Bennington

New Hampshire: 42” at Dublin

Massachusetts: 40” at North Adams

Pennsylvania: 31” at Blooming Grove

New Jersey: 25” at Rahway

Rhode Island: 20” at Kingston

Maine: 20” at Boothby

Map of snow accumulations from the storm. From ‘Northeast Snowstorms’ by Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini.

When the storm stalled off the southern New England coast, warm Atlantic air was advected inland over northern New England diminishing snow accumulations from Boston northward. The line between cold and warm air became very defined. At one point late on Monday night, March 12, the temperature stood at 4° in Northfield, Vermont while it was 34° in Nashua, New Hampshire, just 60 miles east. Graphic by Paul Kocin.

How the Storm Changed America

The blizzard was the first widely documented natural disaster in U.S. history using photographic means. The deadly high-line rail disaster led the city of New York to plan its vast subway system, now one of the most extensive in the world. The breakdown of all communications from Washington D.C. northwards resulted in the burying of telegraph, and later, electric lines throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

REFS: The best book about the storm is Blizzard! The Great Storm of ‘88 by Judd Caplovich, VeRo Publishing Co., 1987. Much of the material in this blog originates from this fine work.

Northeast Snowstorms by Paul Kocin and Uccellini, American Meteorological Society, Boston, 2004.

Cold Waves and Frosts in the United States U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Weather Bureau Bulletin P, Wash. D.C., 1906.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Winter Weather

Updated: 4:43 AM GMT on March 16, 2012


February 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: weatherhistorian, 10:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2012

February 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary

February was notable weather-wise for the extreme cold wave and snow that affected a large part of Europe, excessive rains and flooding in Australia, two strong tropical storms that caused flooding and fatalities, in Madagascar, and a major snowstorm in Colorado that occurred in spite of a generally warmer than normal month in the United States. California wrapped up its 2nd driest climatological winter on record.

Below is a summary of some of the month’s highlights.


In the U.S. temperatures averaged above normal for every state in the nation, including Alaska which had endured a brutally cold January. In Massachusetts it was the warmest February on record (tied with 1998) and it was also the warmest February on record for the New York City metropolitan area. February was the 11th consecutive month of above normal temperatures for the Northeast region. Most of the East Coast and West Coast were also much drier than normal. California wrapped up its 2nd driest climatological winter (Dec.-Feb.) on record (the driest was that of 1975-1976). Welcome rainfall, however, drastically improved drought conditions in Texas where the area under extreme drought conditions shrank from 43.3% in early December to just 14.8% by the end of February. Last year’s drought killed off 10% of the entire state’s urban shade trees.

A massive snowstorm enveloped Colorado on February 2-4 depositing up to 52” at one location west of Boulder and providing Denver with its single greatest February accumulation on record: 15.9”. Lincoln, Nebraska received 11.1” of snow on February 4th, its fourth greatest single-day total on record.

A map shows the snow accumulations in the Denver area during the early February snow event. A peak point total of 52” was measured in the mountains about 20 miles west of Boulder. Map from NWS Denver office.

A tornado outbreak on the last two days of the month, (February 28-29), killed 13 in Illinois and Kentucky. This was a precursor to the even deadlier massive tornado outbreak several days later on March 2nd (to be covered in next month's summary).

The coldest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere during February was -83.9°F (-64.4°C) at one of the Summit RAWS sites atop the Greenland ice dome on February 29th.


Heavy rains continued in the normally arid Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The Pan-American Highway had to be closed near the border of Peru after flash floods unearthed land mines (put down in the 1970s during a conflict between the two nations) and swept them on to the highway.


The biggest weather story of the month was the intense and prolonged cold wave that enveloped most of Europe for most of the month. It was the most severe such since 1987. For details on the event see my recent posted in February. The only, all-time cold record, however, was set at Astrakhan, Russia when the temperature fell to -28.8°F (-33.8°C) on February 8th.

The U.K. experienced an amazing wild swing of temperatures for the normally temperate country. On February 11th a national low reading for the month of -0.9°F (-18.3°C) at Chesham and Chipstead Valley (both on the outskirts of London) was followed by a national high of 65.7°F (18.7°C) at Coleshill near Birmingham on February 23rd. The latter figure was within one degree centigrade from the warmest February reading on record in the U.K. Following many months of abnormally dry weather, southeastern England is now officially suffering drought conditions. Authorities are concerned that if beneficial rainfall does not occur later this spring, visitors to the Olympic Games (as well as local residents of course) will be facing severe water restrictions. The greatest 2-hour rainfall in the U.K. during February was 2.78" (70.6mm) at Achnagart, Highland on Feb. 17-18. The highest measured wind gust was 74mph at Fair Isle on Feb. 24th.


Tropical Cyclone Giovanna, at one point a CAT 4 storm, slammed into the north coast of Madagascar on February 20th killing 32. Fortunately, the storm weakened prior to reaching the coast, otherwise the toll could have been much worse.

A satellite image of Giovanna when the storm was at its maximum strength on February 13th several hundred miles east of the coast of Madagascar. Peak sustained winds were estimated at 140 mph at this point. Image from NASA Earth Observatory.

Another tropical cyclone, Irina, affected Madagascar on February 29-March 2nd with deadlier results. Flooding in the southern interior of the island has claimed at least 72 lives according to early reports. See Jeff Master's recent blog for more on this developing story.

The hottest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere during February was 109.4°F (43.0°C) at Abu Na’Ama, Sudan on February 9th. The hottest temperature in the southern hemisphere was 114.3°F (45.7°C) at Redelinghuys, South Africa on February 5th (a similar reading also occurred in Australia during the month).


A blizzard impacted the Tibet region of China February 7-9 isolating towns and shutting down the Lhasa-Kathmandu highway along which hundreds of travelers were stranded for several days. Heavy snow also blanketed the Japanese prefecture of Yamagata where up to 4 meters (150”) of snow accumulated during the first 10 days of the month.

A snow plow struggles to keep the Lhasa-Kathmandu Highway open during the blizzard that struck Tibet on February 7-9. Photo from China News TV.

In Siberia the temperature fell to -71°F (-57.2°C) at the perennial cold town of Oimyakon on February 10th, the coldest reading at an inhabited site in the northern hemisphere for the month.


February saw the coldest average minimum for the nation since February 1990. Although precipitation averaged slightly below normal for the country as a whole, it was the wettest February on record for portions of New South Wales. Some sites reported their heaviest single-day rainfalls on record: Mulwala 3.68" (94mm) on Feb. 28 (105 period of record), Tungamah 4.90" (124.4mm) on Feb. 28 (122 period of record), and Coolamon 4.87" (123mm) on Feb. 29th among others. The heaviest calendar day rainfall in Australia during February was 10.68" (264.6mm) at Noosaville, Queensland on Feb. 25th.

Persistent heavy rainfall over much of Australia during the current La Niña event has resulted in the years 2010-2011 being the wettest two-year period on record for Australia.

Top map shows deciles of departure from normal for precipitation across Australia during February, and the bottom map the deciles of departure from normal for the average minimum temperatures. In this regard, it was the coldest such February since 1990. Maps from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The hottest temperature during the month in Australia and the world (tied with South Africa) was 114.3° (45.7°C) at Roebourne, Western Australia on Feb. 16th. The coolest reading was 31.3°F (-0.3°C) at Liawenee, Tasmania on Feb. 24th.


New Zealand endured an unusually cloudy and cool month for summer. The highest temperature measured in the country was 87°F (30.4°C) at Hastings, North Island on Feb. 23rd and the lowest 31.6°F (-0.2°C) at Chateau Tongairiro, Mount Ruapehu, North Island on Feb. 28th. The greatest calendar day rainfall was 10.80” (275mm) at North Egmont, North Island on Feb. 22nd. A peak wind gust of 98mph (158km/h) was reported at Cape Turnagain, North Island on Feb. 1st.

A powerful tropical storm, Jasmine, strengthened to CAT 4 status in the open waters between New Caledonia and Vanuatu in early February. Both islands experienced damaging winds from the cyclone.


The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere and the world during February was -84.5°F (-64.7°C) recorded at Dome A site.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data, Stephen Burt for the U.K. extremes, and Jeremy Budd for New Zealand weather extremes.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather

Updated: 5:35 AM GMT on March 08, 2012


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Weather Extremes

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.