The abnormally warm weather we experienced in February was a tease, or what some call “false spring.” Recall we had our warmest back-to-back days (78 and 82 degrees) ever observed in winter late that month, which ranked as the third-warmest February.
But March has taken on a decidedly wintry character and shows little sign of relenting.
We’ve yet to have a day in the 60s this month, and the majority of days have reached highs only in the 40s. Midway through, the average temperature is just 42.1 degrees. That’s more than three degrees lower than February’s average temperature of 45.3 degrees.
Of course, we still have two weeks of March left, and, theoretically, it should get warmer. But because of a chilly long-range forecast, it’s becoming more likely that this March ends up being colder than February.
Although it is rare, the same thing happened last year.
The Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston calculated that 2017 marked the eighth occurrence of a colder March than February in Washington since records began in 1872. In other words, this happens — on average — about once every 18 years.
Of course, for it to happen in consecutive years would be remarkable — but it happened once before, in 1890 and 1891.
So what’s the outlook for the rest of the month?
Matt Rogers, the Capital Weather Gang’s long-range forecasting specialist, thinks a colder-than-normal pattern will persist. The first half of the month averaged two degrees lower than normal, and he thinks the second half of the month will follow suit.
The European modeling system suggests that it will be even colder, about 6 degrees below average.
The average temperature during the second half of March in Washington is about 49 degrees. So if it’s two to six degrees below normal during that span, that would work out to an average of 43 to 47 degrees. Considering that the first half of the month has averaged about 42 degrees, the month would end up with an average temperature of about 43 and 45 degrees, which is near to below last month’s average temperature of about 45.
So unless temperatures are milder than forecast, March has a reasonably good chance of being as cold if not colder than February.
Of course, the relentless wind has set this March apart from February even more!
On 10 of the first 14 days, maximum sustained winds have exceeded 20 mph, including the whopping 47 mph maximum wind and gust to 62 mph on March 2. February had only 12 days with maximum wind speeds over 20 mph.
We can thank the phenomenon known as the “Greenland Block” for this cold, windy weather.
The block refers to a strong area of high pressure that has persisted in the high latitudes that has forced the storm track south over the eastern United States. A parade of nor’easters has developed near the East Coast in response, which have drawn down cold air from the north. Meanwhile, the difference in pressure between the nor’easters’ low-pressure centers and high pressure surrounding them have spurred repeated howling winds.
There are signs that this pattern will relax in the second half of the month, but even so, we see no big break from the cooler-than-average conditions.