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March 2021 was the eighth warmest on record

SimplyCreativePhotography/iStock/Getty Images A remote weather station is used by a farmer to monitor his crop of corn.
A remote weather station.
NOAA predicts summer will be warmer than normal across lower 48, with drought intensifying in west.

Did March feel warm to you? Did the first three months of the year seem dry? What's the forecast for May in your area?

Three scientists reviewed weather conditions from the first three months of the year and looked ahead to the summer during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monthly climate update last week.

First, let's look backward.

March temperatures

According to Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, climatologist, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information:

  • The average March 2021 global temperature was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal, making it the eighth warmest on record, with records dating back to 1880.
  • Temperatures of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average were present across southern Canada, the eastern half of the United States, the Middle East, southern and eastern Asia as well as part of Africa.
  • Temperatures were cooler than normal in parts of Alaska and Russia.
  • The global land temperatures were 2.88 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal and the ninth warmest on record, and
  • The global ocean temperatures were 1.03 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal and the ninth warmest on record.
  • In the U.S., the average temperature for March 2021 was 45.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, and this value tied with 1945 as the 14th warmest March on record, with records dating to 1895.
  • Above-average temperatures were observed across most of the continental U.S. with only seven states in the southwest having near normal temperatures.
  • No state had a statewide March temperature that was below average.
  • North Dakota had its fourth warmest March on record.
  • In terms of precipitation, parts of the Northwest, the Northern Plains, the Northeast as well as portions of the south, east and west had below average precipitation during the month.
  • Above average precipitation was observed from the central U.S. to the Tennessee Valley. Montana and North Dakota had their second wettest March on record.

January through March

Global temperatures were 1.37 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal and tied with 2007 as the ninth warmest January through March period on record, with records dating to 1880. It's very likely 2021 will make the top 10 for warmth, Sanchez-Lugo said.

Above normal temperatures were recorded across the northern part of the country and along both coasts, she said. The temperature for the three-month period of January to March was 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average at 36.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The national precipitation total was 6.55, .41 inches below normal and the driest since 2015. "We saw that above average precipitation was present across the Central Plains to the East Coast, while drier than average conditions were present across parts of the Northern tier, the Northeast, and across the Wouthwest and Florida," Sanchez-Lugo said.

In the High Plains

As of April 13, 2021, 38% of the contiguous U.S. is listed as experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Improvement is conditions was noted in parts of the Midwest and Central Plains, with further degradation in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West, Sanchez-Lugo said.

By the end of March, about 64% of the High Plains region was in drought, Natalie Umphlett said. Umphlett is a regional climatologist at the High Plains Regional Climate Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

A large portion of western North Dakota and a portion of north central South Dakota are listed in extreme drought. The dry conditions intensified over the course of the month due to a combination of persistent dryness and a lack of snow cover, Umphlett said. There have been many concerns about crops, livestock and wildfires, she said.

Since the beginning of April, fire emergencies were declared in both North Dakota and South Dakota and several fires have already burned this year. At the end of March, there were multiple fires burning in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore National Memorial closed for a time.

As of March 9, the entire state of North Dakota was in drought for the first time since 2012. Prior to 2021, the entire state had been in drought only 10 other weeks during the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of last week, a small portion in the southeastern part of the state was no longer in drought, she said.

The other significant event in the region was a mid-month storm. The event brought 2 to 4 feet of snow to parts of Colorado and Wyoming and 2 to 6 inches of rain to parts of Kansas and Nebraska. Cheyenne, Wyoming, reported its snowiest day on record on March 14 with 22.7 inches. Grand Island, Nebraska, has its wettest March day on March 14, with 2.75 inches and its second wettest day on March 13 with 2.56 inches.

And, now the outlook.

Summer forecast

The oceanic and atmospheric conditions reflect weakening La Nina conditions, said Dan Collins, meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. There's a greater than 80% chance La Nina will transition to ENSO neutral conditions in the May through July period and a relatively small chance of El Nino this year.

Above normal temperatures are forecast for May across most of the 48 contiguous states, with an equal chance of above normal or below normal temperatures across the northern tier of states. Above normal precipitation is forecast over much of the eastern part of the country, stretching from Minnesota to Florida. Below normal precipitation is forecast in Texas and neighboring states.

For May through July, the entire nation is forecast to have average normal temperatures, with much of the west forecast to have below normal precipitation. Wetter than normal conditions are forecast to stretch from the east coast to Illinois.

Drought conditions are expected to intensify throughout the western states, Collins said.

NOAAU.S. Drought Outlook

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