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The Historic Anomalous Temperature Event of March 2012

By: Christopher C. Burt, 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


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.