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GardenSMART :: 5 Reasons March Weather Frustrates You

5 Reasons March Weather Frustrates You

By Jon Erdman, The Weather Channel/weather.com
Images courtesy of weather.com

When March arrives, what are the first things that pop to mind? Spring, baseball, trees and flowers blooming?

We can certainly understand the itchiness after a long, hard winter of bitter cold and multiple snowstorms. 

March can be a frustrating month, however, particularly in the northern half of the nation. Here are five reasons why you should keep your March expectations in check.

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Snowstorms

The snow still can pile up from the mountain West into the Plains, Midwest, Northeast, and on more rare occasions, parts of the Deep South in March.

MORE: Where March is the Snowiest Month

Denver, for example, picks up roughly 20 percent of its average snow in March, the city's snowiest month of the year. A skier's delight, but a headache for the drive up to the high country.

Five to six inches of snow is considered typical of March in Chicago. In Boston, 7-8 inches of the white stuff coats the March ground there. 

The March jet stream is still powerful, owing to the temperature difference between more southern and northern latitudes. With lingering arctic air plunging out of Canada and increasingly warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, the stage is set for powerful snowstorms, both hooking out of the Rockies into the Plains, and tracking up the East Coast.

In fact, some of the most notorious winter storms have occurred in March, at times crippling travel for days in parts of the affected areas:

  • "Superstorm" (March 1993)
  • Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh Snowstorm (March 1983)
  • Front Range Snowstorm (March 2003); Denver's second heaviest snowstorm (31.8 inches)
  • New York City's "Blizzard of 1888"

MORE: 5 Extreme Winter Storms in Spring

Mud, Flood Season

All right, so you're sick of the snow. First you need to deal with "mud season," a term I heard from The Weather Channel senior meteorologist Kevin Roth, a native of eastern Pennsylvania.

For those not living in or from northern climates, old melting snow piles from the winter take on a brown look, as road debris scraped by snowplows and snowthrowers is revealed. I've heard this referred to as "snirt" (snow + dirt). 

Once the snow melts completely, you may be left with puddles or mud near the street, curb or sidewalk. Now you don't have to wash your car to get salt off, but have to do so to remove mud and dirt from driving through puddles. 

These are just inconveniences, though.

If the snowmelt occurs too quickly – for example, a sharp warm spell with a decent snowpack in place prior to it – flooding can result, sending rivers over their banks, flooding city streets, even homes.

Some of the most serious flooding occurs when heavy rain falls in the spring, as the ground is still soaked from absorbing spring meltwater. 

This is often a problem in parts of the Ohio Valley, Mississippi Valley, Red River Valley (North Dakota and Minnesota) and parts of New England.

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Warm Teases

Rolling your car windows down, opening a window to air out your house and leaving the jacket in the closet are all things the winter-weary look forward to in the spring. 

In March, though, any warmth in the northern half of the country tends to be a tease. One, maybe two days at most, if you're lucky.

We mentioned earlier the strong low-pressure systems that are notorious in March. Temperatures ahead of the cold front in these situations can spike into the 60s and 70s in parts of the Midwest and Northeast. 

MORE: When Spring Temperatures Typically Warm Up

Furthermore, the warm spell is probably not a sunny one. When warm air advances over snowpack-chilled air, areas of dense fog and low clouds can develop (known as "advection fog"). A band of soaking rain may immediately precede the frontal system, as well.

Just when you get used to near-room temperatures outdoors, a March cold front blasts through, and it's back to the 30s and 40s for a couple of days. 

One exception to this was the incredible, record-shattering warmth in March 2012. One location in Lower Michigan almost hit 90 – yes, ninety – degrees. 

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Spring Severe Season Ramps Up

One byproduct of that increased warmth and a strong jet stream is an increased risk of severe thunderstorms starting in March.

While severe weather can occur any time of year the ingredients align, March is when we typically see arctic fronts become less potent enough to allow warm, humid air to surge north more often in their wake ahead of vigorous jet-stream disturbances swinging out of the West.

The tornado threat tends to be highest in March in a corridor from the Southern Plains into the Tennessee Valley and Deep South. Central Florida can also be a tornado hot spot in March. 

According to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, Texas (11) and Florida (6) lead the way in March tornadoes from 1989-2013. 

Despite this, March U.S. tornado counts have varied tremendously over the past few years.

March 2013 (19) and 2014 (20) and 2015 (11) featured U.S. tornado counts among the lowest on record, impressive considering the technology, social media, and storm chaser networks out there today compared to decades ago.

However, 154 tornadoes touched down in the U.S. in March 2012, punctuated by the March 2-3 outbreak in which Henryville, Indiana and West Liberty, Kentucky were among the cities hit. 

Five years later, a February 28-March 1, 2017 outbreak spawned at least 59 tornadoes in 11 states in the Midwest and South, not to mention over 950 reports of damaging thunderstorm winds, high winds and large hail.

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A Windy Month

If you love flying a kite, March is probably your best month. If you're just praying your sculpted hair holds, however, better double down on the hair spray or gel.

Dozens of cities from New England to the Southeast, Midwest and Plains are typically at their windiest, or at least have March tied as their windiest month.

MORE: America's Windiest Cities

Why is this the case?

We mentioned earlier you can still have arctic cold fronts, one source of March winds, but they tend to give way quicker in March than, say, January. 

That energetic jet stream we talked about earlier spinning up strong low-pressure systems tends to produce strong winds in the storm's warm and cold sectors by March. Thus, you could expect two rounds of strong winds in one storm. 

Even a day without a storm, per se, can be windy in the Southwest and Plains states, when the upper-level storm is still centered over the West. Sometimes, March southwest winds can gust over 50 mph in these areas, accompanied by blowing dust.

 


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