Record Start to Spring 2012

The very warm weather has continued into the Spring season, and preliminary data shows what most folks in the region already may have guessed: It was a record. Based on the preliminary data captured by the Grand Forks NWS, the average March 2012 temperature was the highest on record for Fargo and both Grand Forks locations. Obviously the extremely warm weather covered a very large portion of the U.S. as well. Below are tables with the preliminary data for Fargo, the Grand Forks International Airport and the University of North Dakota/NWS (UND/NWS) Climate Station. The data below is preliminary, raw data from the Acis System of the Regional Climate Centers.

Fargo Area  (ThreadEx Station)
Highest Average Average Temperature degrees F
Days: 3/1 - 3/31
Length of period: 31 days
Years: 1881-2012

Rank  Value  Ending Date
  1    41.6    2012
  2    40.9    1910
  3    36.1    1918
  4    36.0    1973
  5    35.4    2010
  6    35.2    2000
  7    35.1    1945
  8    34.8    1938
  9    34.7    1946
 10    34.5    1961

This station's record may include data from more than one, possibly incompatible, locations. It reflects the longest available record for the Fargo Area.

GRAND FORKS INTL AP (KGFK)
Highest Average Average Temperature degrees F
Days: 3/1 - 3/31
Length of period: 31 days
Years: 1941-2012

Rank  Value  Ending Date
  1    38.0    2012
  2    35.4    1973
  3    34.0    2000
  4    33.9    1985
  5    33.2    1981
  6    32.9    2010
  7    32.5    1977
  8    30.7    1992
  9    30.5    1986
 10    29.5    1983

Ending Date is the last day of the 31-day period.
Only periods with no missing data were evaluated.

GRAND FORKS UNIV (323621)
Highest Average Average Temperature degrees F
Days: 3/1 - 3/31
Length of period: 31 days
Years: 1890-2012

Rank  Value  Ending Date
  1    39.1    2012**
  2    36.0    1973
  3    35.3    1918
  4    35.1    2000
  5    34.4    1945
  6    34.2    1981
  7    33.8    1946
  8    33.2    1985
  9    32.8    1961
 10    32.6    2010

** 1910 has several missing days making it an incomplete data set. It is possible that March 1910 would be in first place, as it has an average temperature of 41.8F with missing data. Only periods with no missing data were evaluated.

Above are images for Fargo (left) and the UND/NWS (right) Climate Station. The top panel is daily temperatures and the bottom panel is cumulative precipitation, compared to the driest year, normal March precipitation and the wettest year.  Click for larger version; images courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center

Why has it been so warm? The Earth Sciences Resource Laboratory has release an excellent in-depth, yet preliminary analysis that may be found here. What follows below is our local take on the recent climate, a brief explanation that does not capture the entire complexity of the factors driving the recent warm weather. Much more research will be necessary before we can fully ascertain all the forcing mechanisms. Our local analysis, which uses data from ESRL and the Regional Climate Centers is meant to capture some of the large scale atmospheric patterns that dominated the 'weather' in March 2012.

First we look up at the Jet Stream that river of air that is in part responsible for the movement of weather systems across the world. There were two strong Jet Streams over the U.S. in March, one to the south which helped produce abundant rains in parts of the Drought regions of the south plains. The other Jet Stream was just north of the U.S. / Canada border, driving most of the 'weather systems' along and north of the International Border. The image below shows the average track of the Jet Stream during March 2012.

Image courtesy of the Earth System Research Laboratory Boulder CO

The red lines represent the average "core" of the Jet Streams impacting the North American region in March of 2012. It is important to note this represents an average position and the Jet Stream varies - sometimes significantly - from one day to the next.  

Part of the reason we've been so warm has been a relatively persistent pattern of higher than normal pressures in the atmosphere, both at the surface and aloft over the United States. The upper high pressure system was centered over the Great Lakes while low pressure was over the Gulf of Alaska.

Image courtesy of the Earth System Research Laboratory Boulder CO

At the surface, a similar pattern prevailed. Lower pressure to the north of our region and higher pressure to the southeast resulted in a predominantly south flow.

Click for a larger version

Image courtesy of the Earth System Research Laboratory Boulder CO

 

Early season loss of snow cover and widespread dry soils are significant contributors as well. On average, the last one inch of snow-depth in the Fargo area is reported around April 5th while at the UND/NWS Climate station it's April 6th. In comparison, this year the snow depth was reported as zero the morning of March 12th in the Fargo area as well as at the UND/NWS station. Without the reflective properties of the snow, incoming shortwave solar radiation is more readily absorbed and converted to long-wave infrared radiation. This warms the soil more quickly resulting in warmer air near the surface. Based on the local records, the earliest last 1 inch of snow depth for Fargo was February 28 1959*. The next day, April Fools 1959 there was only a trace reported. For the UND/NWS Climate Station the earliest last 1 inch of snow depth was March 5th 1981*. While certainly early, not quite a record.

* There are some missing years to the Fargo and UND/NWS snow records, but there is sufficient data to make a representative and accurate assessment..

The result of these - and other factors - was abnormally warm "weather" across a very large part of the U.S. While most areas were quite dry as well, folks closer to the International Border region had above normal rainfall in March. The images below, courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center clearly illustrate the reach of the above normal temperature patterns in March 2012. First we'll look at the departure from normal temperature for March across North Dakota and Minnesota.

Departure from normal temperature for March 2012, North Dakota. Courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center

Departure from normal temperature for March 2012, Minnesota. Courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center

As noted earlier, precipitation was generally below normal in most areas. Portions of northern Minnesota and northern North Dakota did see above normal precipitation due, in part, to the proximity of the Jet Stream.

Departure from normal precipitation for North Dakota March 2012. Courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center


 

 

 

 Departure from normal precipitation for March 2012, Minnesota. Courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center

Finally, the unusual warmth was quite widespread. Below are depicting the departure from normal temperature for the Great Plains and the Midwest.

 

Departure from normal temperature for March 2012, Great Plains. Courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center

Departure from normal temperature for March 2012, Midwest. Courtesy of the Midwest Regional Climate Center

So, how much longer until the pattern breaks? At this point the latest 8 to 14 day outlooks suggest above normal temperatures shifting a bit to the west, yet we'll remain quite warm for early April. The official outlook for April 2012 from the Climate Prediction Center indicates an enhanced risk for above normal temperatures right on through April 2012.

Your NWS will continue to monitor the weather and climate, and issue updates as more data are received and processed. Disclaimer: This draft is an evolving research assessment and not a final report. The analyses presented have not yet been peer reviewed and do not represent official positions of the Grand Forks NWS, NOAA, or DOC. Comments are welcome. For more information, contact Mark Ewens, Climate Services Focal Point (mark.ewens@noaa.gov)



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