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Preliminary climate summary for March 2012

Preliminary climate summary for March 2012

What a month! More temperature records were broken this month than any month since the Dust Bowl Era of the 1930s. Within the USA it is estimated that 6,500 to 7,000 daily high temperature records were set or tied during the month of March. This compares to only 300-400 new low temperature records during the month, mostly in western states. Across Minnesota climate stations 424 new daily high temperature records were set and 327 new daily warm low temperature records were set in March, including 8 new statewide daily high temperature records,, and for many observers (MSP included) the earliest date for an 80 degrees F reading (March 17). In addition many observers reported the highest dewpoints ever measured in the month of March, some even in the 60s F. You can see more record setting temperatures at two web sites:

Mean temperatures for the month ranged from 12 to 18 degrees F warmer than normal. State extremes were 84 degrees F at Madison (Lac Qui Parle County) on March 19th and -18 degrees F at Babbitt and Embarrass on the 6th. Despite a record-setting warm month, Minnesota reported the coldest temperature in the 48 contiguous states on the 4th (-13 F at Bemidji), the 6th (-18 F at Babbitt and Embarrass), and on the 9th (-14 F at International Falls).

Precipitation for the month was mixed with observers reporting above and below normal amounts for March. For those reporting above normal amounts much of this was due to thunderstorm rainfalls. Among those reporting a surplus of precipitation were: 3.33 inches at Kabetogama; 3.20 inches at Northome; 2.77 inches at International Falls; 2.87 inches at Kimball; 2.62 inches at Park Rapids; 2.87 inches at Hastings; 2.56 inches at Delano; 2.49 inches at Kabetogama; 2.46 inches at Vadnais Lake; 2.58 inches at Redwood Falls; 2.20 inches at Wright; 2.15 inches at New Ulm; 2.11 inches at Beaver Bay and Orr; 2.18 inches at Lanesboro; 2.14 inches in downtown St Paul; 2.12 inches at Lester Prairie; 2.08 inches at Isabella and La Crescent; 2.04 inches at Wolf Ridge; and 2.01 inches at Forest Lake.

Though March snowfall was minimal or totally absent in many parts of southern Minnesota, snowfall on Thursday night into Friday morning (Mar 29-30) up north added to already significant amounts for some northern communities. Isabella reported a March total of 21.5 inches, Wolf Ridge 19.9 inches, Two Harbors 14 inches, Duluth Airport 11.9 inches, and 8.4 inches at International Falls.

March was a windy month as well, with wind speeds over 30 mph on several days. Some observers reported 40 plus mph winds on the 8th, 19th, 26th, and 27th. Rochester reported winds up to 58 mph on the 19th, while Fargo-Moorhead reported winds up to 55 mph on the 27th.

In the end, March was so extraordinarily warm that it advanced phenology by 3 to 4 weeks, bringing some earliest ever ice-out dates to many Minnesota Lakes, including Gull Lake (Mar 26), Crane Lake (Mar 27), Minnewaska (Mar 21), and Mille Lacs (Mar 26). Other signs included early loss of soil frost, some planting of small grains in the Red River Valley, early leaving out of lilacs and other vegetation, early opening of golf courses, and an early navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River.


Record Warmth in Canada Too

While much attention has been focused on unusual March weather in the USA, many parts of Canada have recorded their warmest month of March as well. Across the eastern half of Canada scores of communities reported all-time highest maximum temperatures and all-time warmest minimum temperatures. North of the Minnesota border in Manitoba, Winnipeg reported an all-time March temperature maximum of 75 degrees F on the 19th, along with an all-time March dewpoint measurement of 63 degrees F. Brandon, Manitoba reported 8 new daily record high temperatures during March, including 73 degrees F on the 19th. In Ontario, just east of Lake of the Woods, Kenora reported 9 new daily high temperature records, including a reading of 75 degrees F on the 19th, with a record high dewpoint of 60 degrees F on the 18th.

An Invitation

For those interested in learning and wanting to visit the University of Minnesota, there is a golden opportunity this Saturday (Mar 31). The College of Agricultural, Food, and Natural Resource Sciences is hosting the annual event "Classes Without Quizzes" from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm on the St Paul Campus. I will be speaking about evidence for climate change and its consequences in Minnesota, but there will be many other fine speakers and interesting topics presented as well, including a talk on grapes and the wine industry, the new plant hardiness zones, invasive species, and other great topics. For more information and a chance to register please check out the web site or call 612-624-0822. Walk-up registrations are welcome too, but you should try to get there between 8:00 and 8:30 am.

Weekly Weather Potpourri

Following the worst drought in history, many areas of Texas are seeing a very wet start to 2012, almost drought-busting in quantity of rainfall. College Station, TX reports a new monthly record rainfall for March with 8.56 inches, and a year-to-date total of 20.64 inches. The total for the first three months of 2012, exceeds the entire year's worth of precipitation at College Station in 2011 (only 19.04 inches).

Tropical Storm Pakhar was drifting 240 miles off the east coast of Vietnam and expected to strengthen before coming ashore on Saturday. It is expected to pack winds up to 90 mph with sea waves between 20-25 feet, as it bring heavy rainfall over the weekend.

The International Permafrost Association met in Germany last month to discuss the rapid loss of permafrost in the northern hemisphere revealed in detailed satellite measurements in recent years. As the permafrost disappears the interaction of the land surface with the atmosphere will change significantly in the future releasing more greenhouse gases. It is important to understand how the loss of permafrost will impact the pace of climate change in the polar latitudes. For more on this topic you can read this.

A recent paper from the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park has described the manner in which a plant gene (PIF4) at higher temperatures in the spring binds a molecule (Florigen) to trigger early flowering in many plants. When the temperature is unusually warm this can trigger flowering behavior that is weeks earlier than normal. Much like what we have been observing in Minnesota this month. You can read more about this study here.

Dr. Jianglong Zhang of the University of North Dakota will receive the prestigious NOAA David S. Johnson Award on Friday, March 30th at the Goddard Memorial Dinner in Washington, D.C. This award recognizes young scientists who develop new techniques and products associated with satellite measurement systems. Dr. Zhang developed a new method to forecast aerosol particles in the atmosphere and a system to assess aerosol assimilation. Congratulations to Dr. Zhang. You can read more here.

MPR listener question

Everyone in my garden club is wondering if a warm March means the last spring frost will come early and we'll have a long growing season in the Twin Cities. What does our climate history show?

Answer: With thanks to Greg Spoden of the MN State Climatology Office I can say emphatically there is no historical correlation between a warm March and final spring frost dates. Here chronologically are the 10 warmest months of March and the associated last spring frost date for the Twin Cities. Bear in mind average final frost date for the Twin Cities in the spring is about April 29th.

1878 final frost April 6
1910 final frost April 25
1918 final frost April 30
1945 final frost May 10
1946 final frost May 13 (with 3" of May snowfall)
1968 final frost May 5
1973 final frost May 17
1987 final frost April 23
2000 final frost April 21
2010 final frost May 9

Despite this lack of correlation, I am sure some gardeners will plant things that are frost sensitive and just cover them if there is a threat of frost in late April or early May.

Twin Cities Almanac for March 30th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 47 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 29 degrees F (plus or minus 10 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for March 30th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 83 degrees F in 1968; lowest daily maximum temperature of 15 degrees F in 1969; lowest daily minimum temperature of -3 F in 1923; highest daily minimum temperature of 54 F in 1967; record precipitation of 1.51 inches in 1933; and record snowfall of 2.4 inches in 1934. Snow depth was 18 inches on this date in 1965.
Average dew point for March 30th is 27 degrees F, with a maximum of 57 degrees F in 1943 and a minimum of -11 degrees F in 1969.

All-time state records for March 30th

The state record high temperature for this date is 87 degrees F at New Ulm (Brown County)in 1968; the state record low temperature for this date is -28 degrees F at Thorhult (Beltrami County) in 1975. State record precipitation for this date is 3.39 inches at Park Rapids (Hubbard County) in 1933; and state record snowfall for this date is 16.0 inches at Winona (Winona County) in 1934.

Past Weather Features:

March 30-31, 1923 brought a Cold Wave to Minnesota with over 40 communities reporting below zero F readings. Many set record low temperatures on those mornings in the minus teens and minus twenties.

A strong spring storm brought heavy rainfall to parts of Minnesota over March 29-30, 1933. This was one of the heaviest rain storms of the Dust Bowl Era for some observers. Cass Lake reported over a month's worth of rain with 2.00 inches, Fergus Falls reported 2.36 inches, Itasca State Park received 2.65 inches, and Park Rapids had a record 3.39 inches.

The next year, a late winter storm brought heavy snow over March 29-31, 1934. It was the biggest snowfall of the season for some with 10 inches at Fairmont, 12 inches at Albert Lea, 14 inches at Grand Meadow, 16 inches at Rochester, 17.5 inches at Zumbrota, and 19.8 inches at Winona. Schools and roads were closed in some communities.

Summer-like temperatures prevailed on March 30, 1943. Many southern Minnesota observers reported daytime temperatures in the 80s F, topped by by 85 degrees F at Bird Island and Pipestone. Another early dose of summer weather came on March 30, 1968 when 30 communities saw the mercury soar to 80 F or higher, topped by 87 degrees F at New Ulm.

With abundant snow on the ground March closed with bitter cold over the 30th and 31st in 1975. Temperatures were well below zero with dangerous windchill conditions in some places. The Twin Cities did not see a 50 F temperature that spring until April 13th.


A warm weekend, with temperatures well above normal. Chance for showers Saturday and Sunday in the north, then a chance for showers and thunderstorms statewide by Monday. Cooler next week, but temperatures will generally remain warmer than normal. Chance for showers and snow northeastern sections on Tuesday, then drier for the rest of the week.
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