April 10, 2011

March "Climate Madness"?

Weather or climate change?

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center just made it official, folks: "The U.S. had above normal temperatures and precipitation in March." The average temperature in March was 44.0 degrees F, which is 1.4 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average.

But a LOT of Americans can't look beyond their own backyards. They are correct when they claim that THEY experienced little rain ruining their March weekends. But that's weather, NOT climate. For example, March precipitation, while record dry in areas like Texas, was overall 0.22 inch above the long-term average for the ENTIRE country.  That's why that vexing word "global" enters the picture. Scientists (at least most of them) look at the bigger picture than climate change skeptics--even though NOAA's recent announcement is ONLY about the U.S.

NOAA also says,
"Above-normal warmth dominated much of the southern U.S. and Rocky Mountains. The largest temperature departures were in Western Texas and New Mexico, which had its fifth-warmest March on record. Midland, Texas had four consecutive days—March 16 – 19—of temperatures that tied existing records.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures were present in the northern and western areas of the country. Conditions were especially cool from southwestern Minnesota across the Dakotas into eastern Montana. Within this belt, March temperatures were as much as 6 degrees below the 20th Century average.

Precipitation varied across the country, as the west and east coasts received above normal amounts, while the central and southern United States was largely dry. Texas had its driest March on record, with a statewide average of 0.27 inch. This was 1.47 inch below its 20th Century average, and broke the previous record of 0.28 inch set in 1971. It was the third driest March in New Mexico and 10th driest in Oklahoma.

Record warm maximum temperatures exceeded record cold minimum temperatures by a 5-to-1 ratio.

Washington, Oregon and California had their second, fifth, and ninth wettest March on record, respectively. Regionally, it was the second wettest March on record for the Northwest. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania had its third wettest such period.

Drought conditions continued to intensify across much of the nation in March. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the overall footprint of drought did not increase, holding fairly steady at about 24 percent of the country. However, the area covered by the “Severe” and “Intense” drought categories almost doubled, from about 12 percent early in the month, to more than 20 percent at month’s end.

Dry conditions across the Southern Plains contributed to above average wildfire activity during March. Across the U.S., approximately 385,000 acres burned, marking the second most active March in terms of wildfires on record, behind March 2006."

I don't have time to crunch all these numbers, so I'll take NOAA's analysis. You can find more at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/