A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

Heat Wave Sizzles On, Toppling More Than 2,000 Records

Records continue to fall across much of the U.S., as the extraordinary March heat wave rolls onward. The warm weather, with daytime high temperatures close to 40°F above average in some places, set the stage for severe thunderstorms that spawned rare, damaging March tornadoes near Detroit.

The warm weather is the result of a weather pattern that has become stuck in place, known as a “blocking pattern,” with a stubborn, sprawling area of high pressure in the eastern U.S. that is pumping warm air northward into the Great Plaines, Midwest, Ohio Valley and Northeast. The West, on the other hand, is cool and stormy, with mountain snows and valley rains associated with a big dip or “trough” in the jet stream. As this trough slides slowly east, it may set the stage for an outbreak of tornadoes in the Plains late this weekend, as the cool air collides with the warm and more humid air that lies to the east.

Forecast temperature departures from average for Sunday, March 18. Click on the image for a larger version. Credit: Ryan Maue

During the past week, more than 1,200 temperature records were set. During March so far, more than 2,000 daily record-high temperatures have been set in the U.S., and warm temperature records outpaced cold records by a ratio of about 9-to-1.

On March 15 alone, 593 record daily high temperatures were set or tied, along with 445 record warm low temperatures. This compares to just 10 record cold high temperatures, and only 2 record cold overnight lows. In Chicago, temperatures have soared past 80°F four days in a row — the earliest that has ever occurred, breaking a record set in mid-April, 1896.

The National Weather Service issued a statement saying: "It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day... though it is very difficult to precisely quantify just how rare it is because as the period of record grows the likelihood of seeing so many consecutive record-breaking days decreases."

In a long-term trend that has been found to be inconsistent with natural variability alone, daily record-high temperatures have recently been outpacing daily record-lows by an average of 2-to-1, and this imbalance is expected to grow as the climate continues to warm. According to a 2009 study, if the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even. Other studies have shown that climate change increases the odds of extreme heat events.

Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said the heat wave is comparable to severe summer heat events in terms of the number of records that have been broken, even though temperatures aren’t as hot as they would get during a summer heat event.

Temperature forecast for Tuesday, March 20, showing warm temperatures across much of the country. Credit: NOAA/HPC.

“The number of warm maximum temperature records rival the heat waves that have affected the U.S. in the past,” Crouch said, noting that Nevada is the only state in the lower 48 that has not set a daily high temperature record this month.

The warm weather provided the fuel for severe thunderstorms in Michigan, with multiple tornado touchdowns reported near Detroit. One tornado that touched down in Dexter, Michigan was rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It demolished homes, but fortunately did not result in any fatalities. 

As noted by WeatherUnderground’s Jeff Masters, this was the earliest that such a powerful tornado had occurred in the state since reliable records began in 1950.

The National Weather Service released a statement saying that Chicago and Rockford are on pace to "not only break... but shatter" their records for the warmest March.

Here are some of the noteworthy records set on March 15-17. 

  • Minneapolis: 79°F on March 16, the warmest it's ever been s early in the year, and 39°F above average.
  • Rockford, Ill.: 82°F on March 15, breaking the old record of 73°F set in 1995. This was the earliest 80-degree reading on record for this location. Rockford set another daily record on the 16th with a high of 80°F, and on the 17th, with a high temperature of 82°F.
  • Chicago: 81°F on March 15, breaking the old record of 74°F set in 1995. Chicago has been running nearly 12 degrees above average for the first half of March. On March 16 and 17, Chicago hit 82°F, which was the earliest it had ever been that warm. The previous record was set on March 27, 1945, and 82°F is the typical record high for June 24, the National Weather Service reported.
  • Bismarck, N.D.: 81°F on March 16, the warmest all-time March temperature on record. (H/T Jeff Masters.)
  • Madison, Wisc.: 82°F on March 15, breaking the old record by 13 degrees, tying the record for the warmest temperature on record during the month of March, and setting the record for the earliest 80-degree day, beating the old date by nearly two weeks.
  • Williston, N.D.: 68°F on March 15, beating the old record of 67°F set in 1996.
  • Minot, N.D.: 64°F on March 15, exceeding the old record of 62°F set in 1938.
  • International Falls, Minn.: 71°F on March 16, which was their earliest 70°F reading. The temperature reached 77°F on March 17, which set an all-time monthly record, beating the old monthly record by 4°F.
  • Moline, Ill.: 81°F on March 15, the warmest it's ever been there so early in the year. This broke the previous record of 80°F on March 12, 1990.
  • Dubuque, Iowa: 78°F on March 15 and 16, the warmest it's ever been there so early in the year, going back to 1874. This record was short-lived, however, since it was toppled on March 17, when the temperature reached 81°F
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 75°F on March 15, 79°F on March 16, and 82°F on March 17, which was the earliest 80-degree reading on record.

« Extreme Planet


By Doug Cotton (Australia 2151)
on March 16th, 2012

Weather is not climate.

Climatologists love to talk about energy being trapped by carbon dioxide and thus not exiting at the top of the atmosphere (TOA.)

It is nowhere near as simple as that.  All the radiation gets to space sooner or later.  Carbon dioxide just scatters it on its way so you don’t see radiation in those bandwidths at TOA.  The energy still gets out, and you have no proof that it doesn’t.

In the hemisphere that is cooling at night there is far more getting out, whereas in the hemisphere in the sunlight there is far more coming in.  This is obvious.

When I placed a wide necked vacuum flask filled with water in the sun yesterday (with the lid off) the temperature of the water rose from 19.5 deg.C at 5:08am to 29.1 deg.C at 1:53pm while the air around it rose from 19.0 to 31.9 deg.C. 

What did the backradiation do at night?  Well from 9:15pm till 12:05am the water cooled from 24.2 deg.C to 23.4 deg.C while the air cooled from 24.2 deg.C to 22.7 deg.C.

According to those energy diagrams the backradiation, even at night, is about half the solar radiation during the day.  Well, maybe it is, but it does not have anything like half the effect on the temperature as you can confirm in your own backyard.

This is because, when radiation from a cooler atmosphere strikes a warmer surface it undergoes “resonant scattering” (sometimes called pseudo-scattering) and this means its energy is not converted to thermal energy.  This is the reason that heat does not transfer from cold to hot.  If it did the universe would go crazy.

When opposing radiation is scattered, its own energy replaces energy which the warmer body would have radiated from its own thermal energy supply.  You can imagine it as if you are just about to pay for fuel at a gas station when a friend travelling with you offers you cash for the right amount.  It’s quicker and easier for you to just pay with the cash, rather than going through the longer process of using a credit card to pay from your own account.  So it is with radiation.  The warmer body cools more slowly as a result because a ready source of energy from incident radiation is quicker to just “reflect” back into the atmosphere, rather than have to convert its own thermal energy to radiated energy.

The ramifications are this: 

Not all radiation from the atmosphere is the same.  That from cooler regions has less effect.  Also, that with fewer frequencies under its Planck curve has less effect again.  Each carbon dioxide molecule thus has far less effect than each water vapour molecule because the latter can radiate with more frequencies which “oppose” the frequencies being emitted by the surface, especially the oceans. 

Furthermore, it is only the radiative cooling process of the surface which is slowed down.  There are other processes like evaporative cooling and diffusion followed by convection which cannot be affected by backradiation, and which will tend to compensate for any slowing of the radiation.

This is why, at night, the water in the flask cools nearly as fast as the air around it.  The net effect on the rate of cooling is totally negligible.  The backradiation does not affect temperatures anywhere near as much as solar radiation, even though its “W/m^2” is probably about half as much. 

And there are other reasons also why it all balances out and climate follows natural cycles without any anthropogenic effect.  This is explained in detail in my peer-reviewed publication now being further reviewed by dozens of scientists.


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By dan (Manhattan)
on March 17th, 2012

“It is far more complicated than that”, so it is better to represent the process with a flask. Obviously, I look forward to finding this post-peer review.

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By George (Melbourne)
on March 17th, 2012

Dear Doug, As Oscar Wilde famously said, ” it is better to keep you mouth closed and be thought a fool that to open it and prove it”.
On wonders why you feel such a need to advertise your ineptitude and misunderstanding.

Reply to this comment

By Peter Mizla (Vernon Rockville, CT)
on March 18th, 2012

Doug in AU- your “And there are other reasons also why it all balances out and climate follows natural cycles without any anthropogenic effect.  This is explained in detail in my peer-reviewed publication now being further reviewed by dozens of scientists”........... any reputable upstanding scientist would laugh at your distortions and misinformation.

The Paleoclimate records show all well the huge role of C02 on our planets climate- in the distant past - during the End Permian, and the PETM- shame on you for your lies. Peddle your pro coal/oil propaganda elsewhere.

Reply to this comment

By Zachary Schunn (45220)
on March 19th, 2012

If you made it through Doug’s “backyard” experiment supposedly disproving climate change, click on his link, where his “peer-reviewed publication now being further reviewed by dozens of scientists” is posted.

Those scientist reviewers are BASHING it.  Among the claims are that he attempts to disregard the Laws of Thermodynamics.  Awesome.

Reply to this comment

By Doug Cotton (2151)
on March 30th, 2012

I am happy to discuss the paper linked at http://climate-change-theory.com with anyone who knows sufficient physics to understand it.  But in general I don’t respond to the type of comments made by some above, without even a single reference supporting their opinion.

You may be interested in reading how I rubbished Jeff Condon’s weak attempt to rebut the paper, before you write similar.  When I do see fit to pull apart someone’s argument I will certainly expose their lack of understanding, See the screen capture of the post that embarrassed him so much that all he could do was delete it from his site and ban me.  There’s a link at the top of my Home page http://climate-change-theory.com
comprehension and/or knowledge of physics, as I did with Jeff.



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By Knuckleheads
on May 15th, 2012

Topping 2000 records- wow, I guess back in the year 12, we were keeping records. What happened in April and May, when it got colder? How about in October 2011, blizzard - 20 degree weather ‘for days’ - ice age? These predicitions would be more believable if the authors, spend at least more than 2 minutes to make sure what they are saying is real- instead of hauling off pronouncing the end of the world because of some hot weather. When I was a child i remember, huge blizzard day after easte early 1970s, I remember days in Jan, it go so warm kids came to school in shorts 1970s- I live in the US northeast north of NYC. There is nothing abnormal about all this- shame on you people for doing this- for shame.

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