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

Spring Backward? For Many, April Was Cooler than March

As we reported on April 26, the extraordinarily mild weather during March accomplished an unprecedented feat in many parts of the country to the east of the Rocky Mountains, where April temperatures turned out to be cooler than March. In the Northeast, the average temperature during March was warmer than April in locations such as Scranton, Pa., and at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., the first time this has happened there. It was also the first time this has occurred in Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York since records began in the late nineteenth century.

Locations where the average monthly temperature during April 2012 was cooler than during March. Credit: Dennis Adams-Smith, Climate Central. Click here for an interactive version.

“March 2012 was a record-breaking month, breaking more than 15,000 temperature records across the United States. A month later, March’s heat is still breaking records," said Jessica Rennells, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University, in a press release. (Explore the March records and more using Climate Central's Record Temperature Tracker.)

The decline in temperature from March to April is particularly remarkable because April was also a warmer-than-average month in the Northeast and Midwest. In Chicago, for example, April was cooler than March for just the second time on record, despite the fact that April was the seventh-straight month with above average temperatures there. Chicago's monthly average temperature during March was a record 15.6°F above average.

"Longer days and more direct sunlight make that a difficult feat — yet for only the second time in 142 years of weather records, it's happened," wrote WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling on his blog.

Justin Grieser of the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog wrote that average temperatures typically climate steeply between March and April. In Chicago, he wrote, "the average temperature increases by 11.2 degrees from 37.7ºF in March to 48.9ºF in April. In 2012, however, the April temperature fell 2.6 degrees, which is remarkable in the context of normal seasonal temperature trends."

The U.S. and Canada featured the largest temperature anomalies in the world during March. When other land areas and the oceans were factored in, though, March was the 16th warmest such month on record globally.

For March as a whole, more than 7,000 daily record-high temperatures were set or tied, and a nearly equal amount of warm overnight low temperatures were reached. In recent years, record daily highs have been outpacing record daily lows in a pattern that has been shown to be inconsistent with natural climate variability alone. If the climate were not warming, one would expect the ratios to be closer to 1-to-1. 

Here is some temperature data for the Northeast, courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, comparing the average March temperature to April.

Location March Avg. Temp (°F) April Avg. Temp (°F)
Huntington, W.Va.  57  55.5
Charleston, W. Va. 56.5 55.5
Dulles Airport, Va.** 54.3 54
Beckley, W. Va. 54 53.2
Pittsburgh, Pa. 51.5 50.4
Elkins, W. Va. 50.3 50.1
Erie, Pa. 48.9 45.6
Scranton, Pa.** 48.8 48.5
Buffalo, N.Y.**   47.4 45.2
Rochester, N.Y.** 47.3 45.9
Syracuse, N.Y.** 46.5  45.9
Ithaca, N.Y.  45.2 44
Binghamton, N.Y.** 45.2 44.5

**No previous instance of April being colder than March has ever been recorded.

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