March Came In Like A Lamb, Went Out Like A Globally Warmed Lion On Steroids Who Smashed 15,000 Heat Records

It’s official. This was “the warmest March on record” since records began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

How hot was it? It was so hot that NOAA reports “there were 15,272 warm temperature records broken (7,755 daytime records, 7,517 nighttime records).”

NOAA released some amazing charts and factoids yesterday:

  • Hundreds of locations across the country broke their all-time March records. There were 21 instances of the nighttime temperatures being as warm, or warmer, than the existing record daytime temperature for a given date.
  • A persistent weather pattern led to 25 states east of the Rockies having their warmest March on record. An additional 15 states had monthly temperatures ranking among their ten warmest.
  • NOAA’s U.S. Climate Extremes Index, an index that tracks the highest 10 percent and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones, was 39 percent, nearly twice the long-term average and the highest value on record for the January-March period [see figure]:

It was so hot that “March heat records crushed cold records by over 35 to 1” and top scientists and meteorologists said that global warming loaded the dice. If you prefer sports metaphors, like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace.

It was so hot that both ABC News and NBC ran excellent stories that connected the heat wave to global warming. Here is the ABC story, which spells out the health and food security “dangers” posed by “extreme climate risks”:

Here is the NBC News story, which labels manmade global warming, “the prime suspect” for the heat wave:

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Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters said, “this is not the atmosphere I grew up with.” He published a detailed statistical analysis concluding, “It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current ‘Summer in March’ heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming.

Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro called the heat wave “surreal” and explained that “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence upon its extremity.”

Here are more excerpts from NOAA’s March State of the Climate Report:

  • The average temperature of 51.1°F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5°F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months (117+ years) that have passed since the U.S. climate record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.
  • A persistent weather pattern led to 25 states east of the Rockies having their warmest March on record. An additional 15 states had monthly temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. That same pattern brought cooler-than-average conditions to the West Coast states of Washington, Oregon, and California.
  • The nationally-averaged precipitation total was 2.73 inches, which is 0.33 inches above average. The Pacific Northwest and the Southern Plains were much wetter than average during March while drier-than-average conditions prevailed in the interior West, Northeast, and Florida. Colorado had its driest March on record.
  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of April 3rd, 36.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, a decrease from 38.7 percent at the end of February and an increase from 28.8 percent a year ago on April 5, 2011. Above-average precipitation across the Southern Plains improved long-term drought conditions Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
  • Warmer-than-average conditions across the eastern U.S. also created an environment favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. According to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, there were 223 preliminary tornado reports during March, a month that averages 80 tornadoes annually. The majority of the tornadoes occurred during the March 2nd-3rd outbreak across the Ohio Valley and Southeast, which caused 40 fatalities. Total losses from this event are estimated to exceed $1.5 billion dollars, making this the first event of 2012 to exceed one billion dollars in damages and losses.
  • On March 9, a large weather system impacted the Hawaiian Islands, bringing extreme rainfall and severe thunderstorms. A rare EF-0 tornado hit the towns of Lanikai and Kailua on Oahu, causing minor damage. A hailstone with the largest diameter on record for the state, measuring 4¼ inches, fell on Oahu during this event.
  • The first three months of 2012 were also record warm for the contiguous United States with an average temperature of 42.0°F, 6.0°F above the long-term average.
  • Twenty-five states, all east of the Rockies, had their warmest first quarter on record, and an additional 16 states had first-quarter temperatures ranking among their ten warmest.

Since the science of attributing extreme events to global warming is still emerging, scientists still disagree to what extent a specific event like this heat wave is driven by global warming. But two of the leading experts explain at RealClimate why even small shifts in average temperature mean “the probability for ‘outlandish’ heat records increases greatly due to global warming.” Furthermore, “the more outlandish a record is, the more would we suspect that non-linear feedbacks are at play — which could increase their likelihood even more.”

And remember, we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century. We are on track to warm five times times that or more this century.

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!