Above: A man wears a mask as he walks on the sidewalk in Miami, on March 23, 2020—part of a three-week stretch in which temperatures in Miami were warmer than average on every day. Record warmth for Florida in March coincided with the explosive growth of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak there and elsewhere. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)
Last month was the 17th-warmest March for the contiguous United States in 126 years of recordkeeping, NOAA reported in its preliminary U.S. climate roundup for March. It’s an extension of a winter pattern that saw relatively few outbreaks of bitter cold, especially toward the South—and yet another pointer toward the longer-term human-produced warming that has pushed up U.S. temperatures by roughly 2°F over the last century.
The first quarter of 2020 was the eighth warmest on record for the contiguous U.S., and one of the 20 warmest on record for each of the Lower 48 states, NOAA said. Thus far it’s been the warmest year on record for Florida and North Carolina.
A toasty March
California was the only state that came in significantly cooler than average last month, while every coastal state from Texas to New Jersey had a top-ten-warmest March, and Florida saw its warmest March on record.
As we detailed in a recent post, many locations near the Gulf Coast had their warmest March on record by far, including:
Brownsville, TX: 76.8°F (old record 74.9°F in 1953, POR 1878–)
Corpus Christi, TX: 73.8°F (old record 72.3°F in 2012, POR 1887–)
Galveston, TX: 71.3°F (old record 70.5°F in 2017, POR 1874–)
Port Arthur, TX: 69.8°F (old record 68.5°F in 2012, POR 1947–)
Lake Charles, LA: 70.7°F (old record 70.2°F in 2012, POR 1895–)
New Orleans, LA: 73.1°F (old record 70.7°F in 2012, POR 1946–)
Montgomery, AL: 67.1°F (old record 67.0°F in 1907, POR 1872–)
Meridian, MS: 67.3°F (old record 66.2°F in 1907, POR 1889–)
Pensacola, FL: 70.3°F (old record 68.8°F in 2012, POR 1879–)
Daytona Beach, FL: 71.0°F (old record 70.1°F in 1945, POR 1923–)
Orlando, FL: 74.0°F (old record 73.6°F in 1907, POR 1892¬–)
Sarasota, FL: 73.1°F (old record 73.0°F in 2012, POR 1911–)
Fort Myers, FL: 75.4°F (old record 74.8°F in 2003, POR 1892–)
The county-by-county breakdown below shows how the March warmth was especially intense through a belt running along and near the Gulf Coast.
As of April 8, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information had tallied 2013 record highs and 484 record lows for March, as reported by independent researcher Guy Walton.
The extreme warmth in the South pushed spring blooming and leaf-out weeks ahead of their usual appearance in March. Across the central U.S., vegetation is now greening up more in line with the long-term norm, according to the National Phenology Network.
Moisture and dryness popped up in some good areas in March
For the contiguous U.S. as a whole, last month was the 30th wettest March in 127 years of recordkeeping. Periods of rain and snow were focused near a recurrent frontal zone stretching from southwest to northwest. A robust moisture feed from the Pacific led to some welcome rainfall and mountain snowfall from southern and central California into the Southern Plains. It was notably dry in eastern Montana to western Minnesota—another positive development that reduced the odds of major spring flooding in areas with ample snowpack and large amounts of water frozen in soil.
It was a top-ten wettest March for Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri. Florida had its second driest March on record, which helped clear the way for that state’s record heat.
A non-extreme year of extremes so far
The nation’s Climate Extremes Index for 2020 to date is running very close to the long-term average (see below). This index tracks extremes in high and low temperature and in precipitation on both the dry and wet side, as well as the occurrence of landfalling tropical cyclones. The most notable extreme so far in 2020 is a welcome one in many ways: a lack of drought.