May-like Weather in the East, While Snow Slams the West

It's the tale of two countries — the May-like warmth continues in most areas of the country to the east of the Rockies, while the Pacific Northwest and northern California are being subjected to what the National Weather Service is calling “perhaps an unprecedented onslaught” of storms for this time of year. These storms will bring several feet of snow to the mountains from the Cascades and Sierra Nevada to the Tetons, as well as heavy rain and high winds at lower altitudes. 

But if you live anywhere to the east of the Rockies, snow is probably the furthest thing from your mind right now, as temperatures have nudged past 80°F in many locations during the past few days — and the extraordinarily warm weather for this time of year is likely to continue right through the middle of next week. The large geographic scope, intensity of the warm weather, and time of year could make this heat wave an unprecedented event in the historical record. High temperatures in the Midwest, for example, are running as much as 35°F above average.

A computer model forecast for temperature departures from average across the U.S. and southern Canada on March 19. The large area of warmer than normal temperatures is seen as the big red and white region across the Central and eastern U.S. and parts of Canada. Click on the image for a larger version. Credit: Ryan Maue/

Minnesota meteorologist Paul Douglas lists some of the noteworthy recent records on his blog at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, including the 67°F reading that set a record high for Minneapolis-St. Paul on March 13, beating the record of 66°F. The average high temperature for the Twin Cities on March 13 is 40°F, and Douglas predicts that another record will be set today. 

As Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground noted, if current forecasts pan out, Minneapolis could break their record for the most days above 70°F prior to March 20, which is nine days. In the historical record, which dates back to 1872 in the Twin Cities, the warmest temperature recorded before this date was 73°F on March 7, 2000. “So, over the course of the next week, we are likely to break the all-time high for so early in the year, and add nearly double the number of 70°F-plus days,” Masters wrote.

Pierre, S.D., reached a record 82 degrees yesterday, and Sioux City, Iowa, reached 81°F. In Washington, D.C., the high of 80°F was equal to that city's typical high temperature for June 2. 

Perhaps most telling, International Falls, Minn., known as the “Icebox of the Nation,” reached a record high of 55°F yesterday.

Record daily high temperatures set or tied on March 13. Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

On March 13 alone, 184 record high temperatures were broken or tied across the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Between March 6-12, 1,146 warm temperature records (record daily highs and record warm daily lows) were set or tied, compared to just 277 cold temperature records.

In a long-term trend that has been linked to global climate change, 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.