Western Regional Climate Center


March in the West

March, 2017

Well above normal precipitation was generally confined to the Pacific Northwest this month, with scattered areas in the central Rockies and northern Great Basin as well. Washington and northwest Oregon saw slightly cooler than normal temperatures while the rest of the region observed warmer than normal temperatures, with well above normal temperatures in large areas of the Rocky Mountain states.

Inland areas of the West experienced above normal temperatures this month, with many long record stations recording a top-five warmest March. A west-to-east gradient was observed with temperatures near normal in northern California and western Oregon in the west to widespread areas over 6 F (3.3 C) above normal in the Rocky Mountain states to the east. In southeastern Wyoming, Laramie observed its warmest March in a 70-year record at 39.6 F (4.2 C), 8.7 F (4.8 C) above normal. Many locations in Colorado saw record or near record March temperatures as well; Grand Junction reported an average temperature of 50.6 (10.3 C), 6.6 F (3.7 C) above normal and the 2nd warmest since records began in 1900. In New Mexico, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, both with over 120 years of record, observed their warmest March. Temperatures at Albuquerque were 6.7 F (3.7 C) above normal and 6.6 F (3.7 C) above normal in Las Cruces. Salt Lake City, Utah, also had its warmest March at 50.2 F (10.1 C), 6.5 F (3.6 C) above normal. Records for Salt Lake City began in 1928. In contrast, Washington saw near to slightly below normal temperatures statewide. Temperatures were 2-4 F (1-2 C) below normal in the north-central part of the state; Wenatchee observed an average 41.0 F (5 C) for the month, 3.1 F (1.7 C) below normal and the 10th coldest March in a 58-year record.

Precipitation was well above normal across the northern tier of the region this month, with many areas seeing 150-200% of normal precipitation and a top-five wettest March. Olympia, Washington, logged 11.35 in (288 mm) of precipitation, 215% of normal and the 2nd wettest March since records began in 1948. Further east, Moscow, Idaho, also had its second wettest March, recording 7.19 in (183 mm), 267% of normal. Records for Moscow began in 1893. The northern and central Great Basin also saw areas of well above normal precipitation. In northwestern Nevada, Gerlach logged its second wettest March since records began in 1948 at 1.58 in (40 mm), 205% of normal. Further east, Salt Lake City, Utah, observed its 4th wettest March on record at 3.51 in (89 mm), 196% of normal. A large area of Wyoming saw above normal precipitation. Lander reported 4.65 in (118 mm), 401% of normal and the wettest March since records began in 1891.

Several cold storms this month brought snow to the West and maintained near to above normal snowpack across the region despite the periods of well above normal temperatures. At the end of the month, Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 160% to over 200% of normal and the Cascades observed roughly 100-140% of normal. The northern and southern Rockies reported near normal snowpack, while the central part of the range varied from near normal to greater than 150% of normal. Drier than normal conditions dominated the Southwest this month. San Diego, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Phoenix, Arizona, all recorded less than 10% of normal precipitation for March. This is not unprecedented for these locations, which have all seen at least a few years with no measurable March precipitation. The 0.08 in (2 mm) recorded in San Diego this month was 4% of normal and the 6th driest since records began in 1939. In the US Drought Monitor, drought conditions improved in some areas of southern California this month, likely owing to impacts from previous precipitation in the season. Abnormally dry conditions were expanded across central and eastern New Mexico.

March was cooler and drier than normal across much of Alaska. All locations south of the Brooks Range observed below normal temperatures for the month. Fairbanks reported its 3rd coolest March on record at -3 F (-19.4 C), 14.4 F (8 C) below normal. Records for Fairbanks began in 1929. Several locations attained or tied their driest March on record. These include Cold Bay, which received 0.04 in (1 mm), the driest since records began in 1950, and McGrath, where only trace precipitation was recorded, tied with three other years since records began in 1939. In contrast, on the North Slope, Utqiaġvik recorded 0.3 in (7.6 mm), 333% of normal. Further south, precipitation was variable across the state of Hawaii though generally below normal, especially on the Big Island where Hilo received only 3.4 in (86 mm) of rainfall, 25% of normal. The leeward side of Big Island moved into moderate to severe drought conditions in the US Drought Monitor this month. Scattered locations observed a wetter than normal March; Kahului, Maui, reported 4.14 in (105 mm), 169% of normal.

Significant Events for March 2017

March 30: Strong winds impact southern Nevada, southern California: Wind gusts associated with a cold front reached 84 mph (135 kph) in the Las Vegas area. The high winds resulted in dust storms, downed power lines and power outages, airport delays, dust storms and hazardous driving conditions. In southern California, strong winds downed trees and power lines and were related to several traffic incidents.

March 20-21 Flooding, landslides in eastern Washington and Idaho: Heavy rainfall and snowmelt produced localized flooding in many locations around the Inland Northwest. Minidoka and Twin Falls experienced landslides and flooding that damaged over 80 homes. The Spokane River near Spokane, Washington, flooded, inundating dozens of homes. Flooding has impacted travel in the region, with some roads becoming impassible due to high water or mudslides.

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