March 2019: Earth's 2nd Warmest March on Record

April 18, 2019, 3:26 PM EDT

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Above: People gather on the roof of a house submerged by floods from Tropical Cyclone Idai in Buzi, Mozambique on March 20, 2019. The death toll of 1007+ makes Idai Earth’s deadliest weather-related disaster since the August 14, 2017 landslide that killed over 1100 people in Freetown, Sierra Leone, according to EM-DAT. Idai was Earth’s deadliest tropical cyclone since Category 5 Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 7354 people after hitting Tacloban in the Philippines on November 8, 2013. Image credit: ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images.

March 2019 was the planet's second warmest March since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Thursday. NASA rated March 2019 as the third warmest March on record, behind 2016 and 2017. Minor differences in rankings between NASA and NOAA can arise because of how they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, where few surface weather stations exist. The January through March year-to-date period was the third warmest on record. Remarkably, March 2019 was tied for having the fifth highest monthly temperature departure from average for any month in the NOAA record, and sixth highest in the NASA record (1671 months). NOAA’s top-five list of the warmest departures from average for all months since record-keeping began in 1880 look like this:

1)      March 2016: +1.24°C (+2.23°F)
2)      February 2016: +1.22°C
3)      December 2015: +1.13°C
4)      April 2016: +1.09°C
5)      March 2019: +1.06°C
5)      January 2016: +1.06°C

Global ocean temperatures during March 2019 were the second warmest on record, according to NOAA, and global land temperatures were also the second warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in March 2019 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the fifth or third warmest in the 41-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS, respectively.

Departure of temperature from average
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for March 2019, the second warmest March for the globe since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record warm temperatures were present across much of Alaska, northwestern Canada and across parts of the Barents, East China, and Tasman seas, western Europe, central Russia, southern Australia, southern Atlantic and western Indian oceans, and southern Africa. Australia had its warmest March on record. No land or ocean surfaces had a record cold March temperature. Image credit: National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Five billion-dollar weather disasters in March 2019

Five billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the March 2019 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon: Flooding and other damage from the Midwest U.S. "bomb cyclone" that cost $5 billion, Cyclone Idai, which did over $1 billion in damage to Mozambique alone, flooding in Iran that cost $3.6 billion, a severe weather outbreak in the U.S. that cost $1.1 billion, and Wind Storm Eberhard in Europe ($1.5 billion). In addition, damage claims from a February 22 - 26 winter storm and severe weather outbreak in the U.S. pushed above the $1 billion threshold by the end of March, giving Earth eight billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2019:

  1. Flooding, Midwest U.S., 3/12 - 3/28, $4.25 billion, 5 killed
  2. Flooding, Iran, 3/17 - 4/9, $3.6 billion, 77 killed
  3. Flooding, Argentina, Uruguay, 1/1 - 1/20, $2.3 billion, 5 killed
  4. Wind Storm Eberhard, Central & Western Europe, 3/10, $1.5 billion, 2 killed
  5. Severe Weather, Central/Eastern U.S., 2/22 - 2/26, $1.35 billion, 4 killed
  6. Flooding, Australia, 1/28 - 2/7, $1.2 billion, 3 killed
  7. Severe Weather, U.S., 3/23 - 3/25, $1.1 billion, 0 killed
  8. Tropical Cyclone Idai, 3/3 - 3/18, $1+ billion, 1007 killed
March Billion-Dollar Disaster 1. Earth’s most expensive weather disaster so far in 2019 has been the March 12 – 14 “bomb cyclone” that ripped through the central U.S. (Winter Storm Ulmer). Between the storm and two weeks of subsequent flooding, total economic losses were estimated by insurance broker Aon at $4.25 billion, with up to $1 billion in public and private insurance claims (see PDF of Aon’s Global Catastrophe Recap for March). Strong southerly flow ahead of the cyclone pushed warm, moist air atop snow-covered ground, leading to heavy rain that melted massive amounts of water in snowpack. Great chunks of ice jammed rivers, and levees gave way, leading to catastrophic flooding along and near the Missouri River, especially across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. More than 40 locations set all-time record-high flood crests, mainly in those two states, according to Above: Flooding on Easy Pressy Road off Highway 21 in Nebraska on March 14, 2019. Image credit: NSP Troop D.
March Billion-Dollar Disaster 2. Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall on March 14 as a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds just north of Beira, Mozambique (population 530,000) near the time of high tide, driving a devastating storm surge into the city. The cyclone also caused enormous wind damage, ripping off hundreds of roofs in Mozambique’s fourth largest city. Since the cyclone was large and moving slowly at landfall, near 6 mph, it was a prodigious rainmaker, with satellite-estimated rainfall amounts in excess of 2 feet in portions of central Mozambique. Idai stalled and died over the high terrain of the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border region, bringing heavy rains of over a foot to eastern Zimbabwe. The official death for Idai on April 17 stood at 1007, with 602 killed in Mozambique, 344 in Zimbabwe, 60 in Malawi, and 1 in Madagascar. According to EM-DAT, Idai is the deadliest flood on record for Zimbabwe, exceeding the toll of 251 in January 2017 from Tropical Cyclone Dineo. Total economic damage to infrastructure in Mozambique alone was estimated at $1 billion (over 8% of their GDP)--their most expensive natural disaster in history. The World Bank estimated that combined damages to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi would exceed $2 billion. Above: Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi (population 200,000), in central Mozambique, on March 20, 2019, after the passage of Tropical Cyclone Idai. Image credit: ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images.
March Billion-Dollar Disaster 3. Weeks of torrential rains in Iran in March caused record flooding that killed at least 77 people and caused $3.6 billion in damage. According to EM-DAT, this would rank as the second most expensive flood in Iranian history, behind the $5.4 billion damage (2019 dollars) wrought by the floods of April - June 1992. The death toll of the 2019 floods rank as the 18th deadliest flood in Iranian history. Flooding damaged or destroyed 85,000 homes, flooded vast areas of agricultural land, and inundated more than 1,900 cities and villages. Above: This photograph released by the Iranian news agency Fars News on March 23, 2019, shows flooded streets in the northern Iranian village of Agh Ghaleh. Image credit:  ALI DEHGHAN/AFP/Getty Images.
March Billion-Dollar Disaster 4. Windstorm Eberhard swept through parts of Western and Central Europe on March 10, killing two and causing $1.5 billion in damage. Germany was the hardest-hit. Above: A fallen tree lays on a train standing on the rails near Dormagen, western Germany, on March 11, 2019. Image credit: Federico Gambarini /AFP/Getty Images
March Billion-Dollar Disaster 5. Consecutive days of severe thunderstorms from March 23-25 led to widespread hail and wind damage in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. The storms were particularly damaging in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region. Total damage was estimated at $1.1 billion. Above: Grapefruit-sized hail (4.5” diameter) in McKinney, Texas, on March 24, 2019. Image credit: Lisa Limpert.

A Weak El Niño continues

On April 11, NOAA continued its El Niño Advisory, initially issued in January. “A weak El Nino is likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2019 (65% chance) and possibly fall (50 – 55% chance),” NOAA declared.

SSTs in the Niño3.4 region—the one that’s most often used to diagnose El Niño and La Niña—must be at least 0.5°C above average for five overlapping three-month periods for an official El Niño event to be ordained. Thus far we have three such periods (September-November, October-December, November-January, December-February, and January-March). During March, SSTs in the Niño3.4 region were 0.9°C above average, well above the threshold for a weak Niño event, and the atmospheric response was typical of what we expect to see in a weak El Niño event.

Among the latest predictions from a large number of statistical and dynamical El Niño models for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season in August-October, about 1/3 of the models called for neutral conditions, approximately 2/3 called for El Niño conditions, and none predicted La Niña conditions. If El Niño conditions are present this fall, this would tend to favor a slower-than-usual Atlantic hurricane season due to an increase in the upper-level winds over the tropical Atlantic that can tear storms apart (higher vertical wind shear).

Departure of temperature from average
Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific). Since late February, SSTs have been well above the 0.5°C above-average threshold needed for an El Niño event. Image credit: Levi Cowan,

March Arctic sea ice extent the seventh lowest on record

Arctic sea ice extent during March 2019 was the seventh lowest in the 41-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). However, ice extent reached a record low for the date on April 1, and has been at record-low levels through April 18.

Antarctic sea ice extent reached its minimum for the summer on March 1, bottoming out at the seventh lowest on record.

Notable global heat and cold marks for March 2019

Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 46.9°C (116.4°F) at Kapde, India, 25 March
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -60.1°C (-76.2°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, 24 March
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.1°C (118.6°F) at Roebourne Airport, Australia 10 March
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -72.8°C (-99.0°F) at Vostok, Antarctica, 26 March

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) all-time heat or cold records in March 2019

Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 6 set new all-time heat records in March and 0 set all-time cold records.

Meru (Kenya) max. 31.8°C, 1 March
Cape Bruny (Australia) max. 39.7°C, 2 March 
Wide Awake Field (Ascension Island, United Kingdom) max. 33.5°C, 11 March
Espinheira (Angola) max. 41.6°C, 22 March: New national record high for Angola
San Jose (Guatemala) max. 40.2°C, 27 March
Mango (Togo) max. 43.5°C, 28 March: New national record high for Togo

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Four all-time national heat records set or tied in 2019

Christmas Island (Australia), 31.6°C (88.9°F), 19 January
Reunion Islands (France), 37.0°C (98.6°F), 25 January
Angola, 41.6°C (106.9°F), 22 March
Togo, 43.5°C (110.3°F), 28 March (later tied on 4 April)

Additionally, all-time national records were probably set in Gabon, Congo, the Ivory Coast, and possibly in Equatorial Guinea in March, but a data outage that affected the transmission of much of the data from Africa late in the month prevented data from being received from a number of nations that experienced unprecedented heat waves, according to Mr. Herrera.

No all-time national cold records have been set thus far in 2019. Most nations do not maintain official databases of extreme temperature records, so the national temperature records reported here are in many cases not official. I use as my source for international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, one of the world's top climatologists, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records.

Thirty-one monthly national heat records beaten or tied in 2019

January: Micronesia, Paraguay, Angola, Equatorial Guinea
February: Chile, Marshall Islands, Guyana, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Andorra, Austria, Hungary, Jersey, Guernsey, Slovakia, San Marino, Slovenia, Angola, Papua New Guinea
March: Australia, Marshall Islands, India
April: Angola, Togo, French Southern Territories, Mayotte, Taiwan

No monthly national cold records have been beaten or tied in 2019.

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2019

Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere: 35.9°C (96.6°F) at Noona, Australia, 18 January. The record was beaten again on 26 January, with a minimum temperature of 36.6°C (97.9°F) recorded at Borrona Downs, Australia. This is also the highest minimum temperature on record for the globe for the month of January.

Highest temperature ever recorded in the world in March: 48.1°C (118.6°F) on 10 March at Roebourne, Australia.

Highest temperature ever recorded in Asia in March: 46.9°C (116.4°F) at Kapde, India, 25 March. The data comes from a state (not central government) station, and may not be officially recognized, but is supported by data from several nearby stations.

Bob Henson contributed to this post.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.

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