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Third warmest March on record    Send a link to a friend

[APRIL 17, 2004]  Virtually all parts of the contiguous United States experienced warmer than average temperatures in March 2004, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The West, Southeast and parts of the Northeast were unusually dry, while precipitation was above average across the middle of the nation. The global monthly average temperature was the second warmest on record for the month of March.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists report that preliminary data indicate the average temperature for the contiguous United States in March was 47.7 degrees F, which was 5.2 degrees above the 1895-2003 mean and the third warmest March on record. Florida was the only state with a near normal March temperature. The mean temperature in 17 western and central states was much above average, including New Mexico, which had its warmest March on record. An additional 30 states were warmer than average. The Southwest region as a whole had its warmest March on record. Conversely, Alaska was cooler than average, with a statewide temperature that was 1.8 degrees below the 1971-2000 mean.

Precipitation for the contiguous United States was below average, with much of the West, Southeast and Northeast drier than normal. However, wetter than average conditions occurred in 12 states along a broad path from Texas to Minnesota. The Southeast region, consisting of states from Alabama to Virginia, had its driest March on record. The January-March 2004 period was generally drier than average for much of the East Coast in marked contrast to 2003, which had record or near record precipitation for many states.

Below average precipitation occurred in many areas of the West, where drought has persisted for much of the past four to five years. The drier than average conditions and much warmer than normal temperatures contributed to record snowpack losses during the month of March and left mountain snowpack levels below average in most parts of the West. Despite the rapid snowmelt, reservoir levels remained below average in many areas. By the end of the month, the drought area had expanded to include 59 percent of the western United States in moderate to extreme drought, based on a widely used measure of drought, the Palmer Drought Index. By contrast, the most extensive drought on record for the West occurred in July 1934, when 97 percent of the region was in moderate to extreme drought.

Based on preliminary data, the average global surface temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during March 2004 was 1.3 degrees above the 1880-2003 long-term mean. This was the second warmest March since 1880, which was the beginning of reliable instrumental records, and slightly cooler than March 2002.


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Land surface temperatures were anomalously warm throughout most parts of the world, while temperatures in much of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific remained near average as the neutral phase of El Nino/Southern Oscillation continued. A heat wave in eastern Australia continued during the first three weeks of March, and much of the continent was drier than normal for the month. Other areas with below average precipitation included large parts of eastern China, southwest Asia, and much of western Europe. Areas with above average precipitation included much of Russia, the Amazon Basin and parts of Eastern Europe.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellites and information service is the nation's primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. It operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications, such as fire detection, ozone monitoring and sea surface temperature measurements.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also operates three data centers, which house global databases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics, and paleoclimatology.

To learn more about the NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, visit

As part of the U.S. Commerce Department, NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. To learn more about NOAA, please visit

Links to data, graphics and analysis related to this article, in addition to further national and global data, are available at

[National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
news release]

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