Is it March or May? Near-record to record warmth is en route to a large swath of the south central and southeastern United States over the next several days. Temperatures may even soar into the 90s in a few spots amid one of the warmest Marches on record. Numerous cities are likely to tie or break daily temperature records, with a few all-time March records in jeopardy as the early-season sizzler sets in.
Hot weather has already swelled over parts of Texas and the Gulf Coast in recent days. Houston hit 90 degrees on Wednesday for the first time this year and about six weeks ahead of average. New Orleans hit 89 degrees on Wednesday, breaking its previous daily record by 5 degrees, and tying the monthly record for March. New Orleans also set record highs of 88 and 86 on Monday and Tuesday.
The core of the heat on Thursday focuses in Texas and Oklahoma as a developing storm in the Rockies sweeps tropical warmth and humidity north. High temperatures as much as 25 degrees above average will balloon east on Friday, surging northeast along Interstate 40 into the Ozarks, Tennessee, and even western Ohio Valleys into Illinois and Indiana. By Saturday, that torch swallows most of the southeastern third of the country.
This bout of abnormally warm weather may be the first of many this spring. The Climate Prediction Center is anticipating near or above-average temperatures over the entire nation this spring.
The surge of heat begins to take shape over Oklahoma and Texas, spreading as far east as the Mississippi River and including Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and southern Mississippi. With an anticipated high of 90 degrees, Oklahoma City is expected to shatter its previous record of 85 degrees. Lawton, Okla. — home to Fort Sill — will probably break its record of 90 degrees as well.
Stretches of Highway 287 in Texas southwest of the Red River could surpass 95 degrees.
The combination of high temperatures, low humidity and breezy southerly winds could pose fire weather concerns as well. The National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., cautioned that “elevated to near critical fire weather conditions [were] expected [Thursday] afternoon across portions of western Oklahoma and western north Texas.”
Dallas was expected to hit 88 degrees on Thursday, shy of the 91-degree record set in 1909, but potentially tying with 2018 for second place.
Laredo, Tex. — a border city known for its proclivity for exceptional heat — could nick the century mark on Thursday.
To the east, 80s are likely in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and southern Missouri — south of a warm front. North of there, 50s are more likely. The National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss., is forecasting a high of 90 in Jackson, which would be the earliest 90 since 1929.
In New Orleans, high temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s will be near record levels for the fourth straight day, and is on its way to its warmest March on record.
As a dome of heat nudges the jet stream north, warmth will continue to build in the Deep South and spill east. Houston and Corpus Christi could both hit 90, but now the heat makes it all the way to the Southeast — even Atlanta could approach the upper 80s.
Mid- to upper 80s are also likely in the Carolinas, while the bulk of the Florida Peninsula could swelter as temperatures climb into the lower 90s. Jacksonville will probably set a record, and Orlando could come close.
In New Orleans, upper 80s are forecast once again on Friday and Saturday. Records are likely to be shattered each day, with 84 or 85 degrees the number to beat.
Atlanta’s record for Friday is 86 degrees, set in 1994. Temperatures are likely to tie that — or perhaps break it.
The heat becomes a bit more tepid on Saturday as low pressure and cloud cover expand east. Mild air with highs near 70 may fringe the Great Lakes, overspreading most of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
In the Mid-Atlantic, high temperatures will walk a steep gradient, an encroaching “wedge” of cool ocean air likely to hang over parts of the region, including Washington and Baltimore.
Temperatures in the 80s are likely in most of the Deep South and Southeast, with a few 90s in Florida ahead of the cold front.
By Sunday, the 80s are squeezed to the coastal Carolinas, Florida and southeastern Georgia, although a tongue of 80-degree temperatures might make it as far north as Washington, D.C. Highs near 70 could reach all the way up to New York City.
While a brief cool-down is likely into next week and the beginning of April, there are signs of returned unseasonable warmth deeper into April for the eastern and southeastern part of the country.
That pattern is likely to continue for most of spring. The Climate Prediction Center highlighted virtually the entire nation as likely to see above-average temperatures during April, May and June.
It’s already been a toasty start to the year for much of the eastern Lower 48. According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, many cities — including Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Raleigh, Cape Hatteras, and Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg and Allentown — have seen their warmest year to date on record. The majority of other East Coast cities are in the running for a top 5 spot thus far.
As the climate continues to warm because of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases from human activities, heat records will consistently outpace cold records as the environment rapidly shifts to a new normal.
Jason Samenow contributed to this article.