It was a wild March headlined by abnormal warmth in our nation’s coldest state and a destructive and costly “bomb cyclone” in central United States.
By a landslide, Alaska posted its warmest March on record. At the same time, the powerhouse storm in the central United States became the country’s second billion-dollar weather disaster of 2019.
The $4 billion bomb cyclone
"[H]eavy snow, blizzard conditions and major flooding to the Midwest in March landed with a resounding meteorological ‘ka-boom!,’ the National Oceanic and Atmospheric wrote in its March climate report, released Tuesday.
Flooding from the cyclone inundated “millions of acres of agriculture, numerous cities and towns and causes widespread damage to roads, bridges, levees and dams,” NOAA reported.
The storm affected most of the eastern two-thirds of the nation, but the states especially hard hit by flooding were Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Global insurer Aon estimated the total economic damage from this historic storm at over $4 billion.
The storm also unleashed hurricane-force winds and blizzard conditions in the eastern Rockies and western Plains.
It became the second billion-dollar weather disaster of 2019, following a storm system Feb. 23-25, which unleashed tornadoes, flooding and severe weather in the South, and high-wind damage in the Northeast.
The active weather March pattern — spurred by a jet stream diving south into the Lower 48 from Canada — kept temperatures on the chilly side in the Lower 48. The average temperature was slightly below normal (by 0.82 degrees), and the start to 2019 ranks as the coolest since 2014.
Despite the bomb cyclone and all of the flooding in March, precipitation was somewhat below normal averaged over the entire Lower 48. However, incorporating the soggy and snowy months of January and February, 2019 ranks as the 12th wettest on record year-to-date.
Thanks to this wet start, just 6 percent of the Lower 48 is in drought, “one of the smallest contiguous U.S. drought footprints on record,” NOAA reported.
Alaska’s exceptional warmth
The Lower 48 was one of just a few cold locations in the Northern Hemisphere during March. Almost everywhere else, it was toasty, and Alaska was at the epicenter of the warmth.
Incredibly, the average temperature in March in our 49th state was nearly 16 degrees above normal, crushing the previous warmest March in 1965 by three degrees. The warmth was exceptional in the northern part of the state. The average temperature in Kotzebue, Alaska, nearly 22 degrees above normal, was so high that it would have ranked among the top 10 warmest Aprils, NOAA reported.
Both Anchorage and Fairbanks also had their warmest March on record. Anchorage was snowless during the month for only the second time on record.
The abnormally warm conditions in Alaska fit into the pattern of long-term rising temperatures in the region from human-induced climate change. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming more than twice as fast as lower latitudes.
The stormy weather pattern in the central United States and mild conditions in Alaska are carrying over into April. A powerful spring storm is walloping the central United States this week, while temperatures in the Last Frontier are, once again, well above normal.