It should come as no surprise that March was the coldest on record since 2002 for the contiguous United States. The average temperature was 40.5°, 1.0° below the 20th century average. It was the 43rd coldest March on record. It was the 8th coldest March on record for Illinois with a statewide average temperature of 33.8°, 7° below average. March was the fifth month in a row with temperatures much below average in Illinois.
Some highlights from the NOAA’s most recent State of the Climate report:
- Below-average temperatures dominated the eastern half of the contiguous U.S. during March. The largest departures from average occurred across the Great Lakes and Northeast, where nine states had temperatures that ranked among their 10 coldest on record. The persistent cold resulted in nearly two-thirds of the Great Lakes remaining frozen into early April.
- Most locations from the Rockies westward had above-average March temperatures. California had its ninth warmest March, with a statewide temperature 4.7°F above average. No state was record warm for March.
- On March 22nd, a large landslide impacted the Stillaguamish Valley near the town of Oso, Wash., causing at least 30 fatalities. Washington’s Climate Division 3, in which the landslide occurred, observed its wettest March on record. Its 8.67 inches of precipitation during March was more than twice the monthly average.
- According to the April 1 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 38.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up from 35.9 percent at the beginning of March. Beneficial precipitation fell in California during March, but did little to improve drought conditions — 23.5 percent of the state remained in the worst classification of drought (“exceptional”). Drought conditions intensified across parts of the Central and Southern Plains and expanded into parts of the Southeast.
- According to NOAA data analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, March snow cover extent across the contiguous U.S. was the 22nd largest in the 48-year period of record at 845,000 square miles, about 104,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average. Above-average snow cover was observed across the Northern Plains and Rockies, Midwest and Northeast where numerous storms brought heavy snowfall during the month. Below-average snow cover was observed for most of the West and southern Rockies due to season-long snow deficits.
NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies says March was the fourth warmest globally since records began in 1880. The only years that had a warmer March were 2002, 2010 and 1990. Globally, the average temperature for March was 0.7°C or about 1.26°F higher than the 1951-1980 average. We, of course, were the exception to that warm rule. Notice the shades of blue on the March anomaly map below over Chicago and the upper midwest.
The blues and purples mark areas that were below average during March while the yellows, oranges and reds mark areas that were warmer than average. Much of the eastern half of North America, including the midwest, was much colder than average. March rounded out the coldest four month period (December, January, February and March) on record for Chicago.
Seems like that same cold pattern responsible for our brutal winter has spilled over into spring. After yesterday’s snowfall of up to nearly 3″ in some spots, today will feel more like late February than the middle of April. The image below shows the departures from average expected today. Notice the blob of blue and purple over the midwest. Our high today of 40° will be almost 20° below average.
We should warm through Thursday when our highs get back to about average (59°). Easter weekend will be a bit below average with highs in the lower to middle 50s and cooler conditions lakeside with a wind off the lake.
There is little doubt among computer models that an El Niño is coming later this summer but the question is how bad will it be? El Niño is a build up of unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern portion of the Equatorial Pacific. The graphic below shows the various computer model solutions for SST or sea surface temperature anomalies through the end of the year and into January of 2015. The further above the line the model solution, the warmer the predicted El Niño.
Dr. Cliff Mass from the University of Washington cautions these early predictions can sometimes be unreliable. The skill level is much lower this early in the year for forecasting such events for the upcoming winter. After July 1st the “spring forecast barrier” is no longer in place and the forecast can improve substantially.
The signal does appear strong enough though that there is confidence an El Niño is coming but it is too early to say just how big a deal it will be. It’s possible a moderate to strong El Niño could warm global temperatures by almost a quarter of a degree Celcius like the 1997-1998 El Niño did. That kind of warming could help make 2014 the hottest year on record. A strong El Niño spilling into next year could make 2015 even warmer.
We had a glimpse of spring weather on Monday when we soared to 68° for the high. That was the warmest day of the year so far but one of only 9 days that have managed to climb above average during the month of March. Not only was March much cooler than average, it turns out the period of December through March was the coldest on record for Chicago. The average temperature for that four-month period was 22°, the coldest such period since records began in 1872!
The forecast for the next several days is calling for cooler than average weather to continue. Only one day out of the next seven will be at or above average. Sunday’s high could get up to 55°. Average high is 54° for this time of year.
Looking further into the future…
The 8 to 14 day forecast (see image below) has us outlooked for cooler than average temperatures overall all during the second week of April.
Helping to keep things cool is the unusually large amount of ice still covering the Great Lakes. Just over 69% of the Great Lakes had ice cover as of Tuesday. Average for this time of the year is around 12%.
While February was frigid here, globally it was the 21st warmest February since 1880. It was also the 348th consecutive month with a global temperature that was above the 20th century average. The National Climatic Data Center’s review of this past winter (December through February) ranks it globally as the 8th warmest on record or 1.03°above the 20th century average.
That is dramatically different from what was observed here in Chicago. It was our 3rd coldest winter on record at 6.5° below the 1981-2010 average. The map below shows the departure from average that was seen around the world this past winter. The deepest blue colors denote where temperatures were the most below average. The blue blob centered on the upper midwest reflects the bitterly cold winter we just came through. No other place on earth during the period saw a bigger drop from average than the midwest and northern plains this past winter.
The colder than average winter here could spill over into a cooler than average spring.
The latest forecast for late spring and early summer from the Climate Prediction Center has us outlooked for an overall all cooler than average period between April and June.
Here we are in the middle of March and it feels more like the middle of February. While there are a few “glimpses” of spring in the 7 day forecast, most of it calls for below average temperatures. Meteorological spring started on March 1st but since then, 13 of the first 16 days of spring have been below average. So far this March has been as cold as a typical February.
The longer range forecasts aren’t offering much hope for a warm up. Both the 6 to 10 day and 8 to 14 day forecast have us outlooked for a high probability of below average temperatures overall from March 22nd through the end of the month.
After 13 straight days with temperatures below average we should finally warm back up to just about average today with a high in the lower 40s. Today should be the warmest day we have seen in nearly two weeks. Monday could be the warmest day we have seen in over two months. Monday’s high will get close to 50°. Last time we were that warm was way back on December 28th last year when the high hit 50°. If we hit 50° on Monday it will only be the 4th time highs have hit 50° or more since the start of winter. Last winter we hit 50° or more ten times by now with even a few 60s and one 70° high mixed in.
These warmer days will be welcome after such a cold start to 2014. 50 of the first 65 days, or 77% of days, have been below average. Only 10 days in January were above average and only 5 in February.
These signs of spring come amid periods of colder than average weather though. 30s for highs this weekend and we’re back below average again for the middle and end of next week. So enjoy it while you can!
The graphic below shows the forecast temperatures for 3 pm Monday from the GFS model.
There may be one good fringe benefit from our frigid winter-less lake effect snow. A wind will develop off the lake later tonight. The lake effect snow that may develop will be limited by the lack of open water on Lake Michigan. The latest estimate from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is that just under 90% of Lake Michigan is covered in ice. The portion of the lake that has the most open water is on the east side, well removed from the Michigan shoreline. By comparison, last winter the maximum ice cover on Lake Michigan peaked at just over 20%.
The ice cover on the Great Lakes as a whole peaked over the weekend at a near record of just over 90%. The extensive ice cover on Lake Superior has allowed for access to ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Nearly 80,000 visitors have explored the caves along Lake Superior’s shore since the middle of January. The thick ice has caused some problems though too. The 225 foot Coast Guard icebreaker “Cutter Hollyhock” got caught in a collision with an ore boat after the Hollyhock ran into a thick patch of ice in northern Lake Michigan back in January.
Given the right conditions, more unseasonably cold weather for the next few weeks, it is possible a new record of ice cover could be broken. The previous record was 94.7% set in February of 1979. Both the 6 to 10 day and 8 to 14 day from the Climate Prediction Center call for colder than average temperatures through the middle of March.
The long-term average is just over 51%. The last time ice coverage climbed above 90% was in 1994.
Three to nearly 8 inches of snow fell Monday and most of it will be gone by the end of the week. Our highs will be above freezing today through Thursday. Today should be (but barely) the first day above average since the first day of February, 17 days ago. Every day since, 16 in a row, have been below average.
The longer range forecast calls for temperatures to take a tumble though next week. Most of the country, in particular the midwest, is outlooked to be below average.
The GFS model has highs soaring into the 40s for Thursday. It even has some of our far southern suburbs touching 50°. Our forecast high of 46° will be the warmest we have been in nearly two months. The last time we were warmer than that was back on December 28th when the high hit 50°.
Enjoy it while you can…
Arctic air is scheduled to return in phases with temps falling 15° by Friday to just below freezing. We expect 20s for highs this weekend. Bitter cold could return next week. The same GFS model has highs barely above zero a week from this Thursday.
Today was the 22nd day O’Hare has dipped below zero. The record number of sub-zero days is 25. That occurred way back in the winter of 1884-1885. This morning could be one of the last sub-zero mornings we see for several days. We will thaw out on Thursday to 32°, one of the warmest days we have seen in nearly two weeks. The bigger thaw will come next week. The 6 to 10 day outlook has more yellow, orange and red on it than blue for the first time in several weeks. The area shaded in yellow, orange and red is outlooked with a high probability of seeing above average temperatures for the third week of February. That includes all of the midwest and the majority of the country.
Take with a few grains of salt but the long-range forecast from the GFS model is hinting at 50° or more by Thursday of next week. Central and southern Illinois could see some 60s.