Western Regional Climate Center


March in the West

Temperatures were near normal throughout the West except for northeast Montana where well below normal temperatures occurred, and along the West Coast, which was mildly cool, in and parts of the Southwest where temperatures were above normal. Glasgow, MT, had an average temperature of 11.0 degrees F (6.2 C) below normal while Albuquerque, NM, was 5.1 degrees F (2.8 C) above normal.

Drier than normal conditions prevailed in the Southwest while much above normal precipitation occurred from central California to the Pacific Northwest. Rainfall totals in parts of NW California and SW Oregon exceeded 30 inches (762 mm), with measureable rain (0.01 inch / 0.25 mm) falling in Crescent City CA 28 of the first 29 days, and in Tigard OR on every day of the month It was the wettest March in Sacramento since 1995 and the second all-time wettest in Mount Shasta City dating back to 1949. In northern California March of 2011 exceeded the “Miracle March” of 1991 in total precipitation, the difference being that more than half the Water Year 1990-91 precipitation occurred in that one month. It was the wettest March in Winnemucca, NV, in 97 years. Total snowfall this winter in Glasgow, MT, has been 105.3 inches (267 cm) through March, which has shattered the old record of 70.7 inches (180 cm) set in 2003-04. Flood watches and warnings were in effect in the region in early April. In Arizona and New Mexico, many stations recorded no precipitation at all for the month.

April 1st snow pack was very healthy throughout the west. Except for those in Arizona and New Mexico, almost all river basins were above 100% of normal for April 1st, on average the date of peak snow water content, and the most important indicator date of the year for spring-summer runoff forecasts. The Central Sierra was roughly 165% of normal with some locations reporting 80 inches (203 cm) of water in the snow pack. Nearly 570 inches (1448 cm) of snow has fallen near Donner Summit through March with a maximum snow depth of 222 inches (564 cm) on the 26th, the greatest snow depth there since March 1952. Nearby ski areas reported 800 inches (2000 cm) of seasonal snowfall and depths of 250 to over 300 inches (635 to 760 cm). Typical deep-snow problems were present, such as buried “overhead” power lines, propane leaks into the snow and subsequent explosions, and structural damage.

Significant Events for March 2011

March 1-2: Strong winds in Pacific Northwest. Winds of up to 75 mph (34 m/s) hit the coast of Oregon and Washington causing power outages to about 4,000 people. Wave heights of up to 31 feet (9.4 m) closed the Tillamook Bay bar in Oregon and closed the Columbia River bar to all but commercial shipping on the 2nd.

March 4: Wind Damage on Oahu, Hawaii: A band of thunderstorms moved across Oahu early on the 4th with wind gusts of 50 mph (22 m/s). Downed trees and power lines caused road closures and power outages. More than 14,000 homes and businesses were without power and many schools were forced to close.

March 11: Tsunami Damage along West Coast: The huge earthquake in Japan on March 11th generated a tsunami that reached the West Coast the next morning Pacific Time. Two people died, one from a boat in Brookings, OR, and another was swept to sea near the mouth of the Klamath River in Northern California. All docks and 35 boasts in Crescent City harbor, CA, were destroyed and damage is expected to exceed $20 million. Santa Cruz harbor sustained at least $14 million in damage with numerous boats sunk or overturned. Total California damage is estimated at over $48 million. Over 1.800 residents in San Luis Obispo County were evacuated with numerous school closures in anticipation of damaging waves.

March 18-26: Strong winter storms in California: A series of strong storms greeted California upon the arrival of spring causing heavy rain and snow. Heavy snow and low visibilities caused a 30-car pileup on Interstate 80 in the Sierra on the 18th killing one person. Highway 80 over Donner Summit was closed off and on numerous times throughout the 9-day period. Up to 5,000 customers in the Sierra foothills lost power and Yosemite National Park closed on the 21st for the first time in 15 years to due power outages and roads blocked by heavy snow, fallen trees and mudslides. Most tourists evacuated the park. Up to 12 feet (366 cm) of snow fell in parts of the central Sierra over the 9-day period raising snow depths to near record levels in some locations.

March 2011 Departure from Normal Temperature and Percent of Normal Precipitation for Western United States

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