National News

Start of 2012, March shatter US, NC heat records

Posted April 9, 2012

— It has been so warm in the United States this year, especially in March, that national records were not just broken; they were deep-fried. 

Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records.

Current Temperatures, DMA Temperature Tracker

The Triangle saw the warmest March in six decades of record keeping at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. 

"We actually never did break a record high in March. We tied one. But overall, we just had so much warmth that we ended up really doing a number of the record book," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said.

The mean temperature for the month was 60.4 degrees, beating the 60.1 degree mark that had stood since 1945. The average mean temperature for March in the Triangle is 50.5 degrees.

For one 16-day stretch in March, the daily highs were all above average, often getting into the 70s and sometimes soaring over 80 degrees.

The warm start to the year has many wondering if a hot summer will follow. That's not necessarily the case, though, Gardner said.

Of the top 10 warmest springs in North Carolina, six lead to an overall unusually hot year, and four to an unusually cool year.

"Our chances are maybe slightly higher that this will go on to be an especially hot year, but they're almost just as good that it will be an unseasonably cool year," Gardner said.

Heat, hot temperatures Warm spring = hot summer?

The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it is the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated.

"Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good," said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist who specializes in extreme weather at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "It's a guilty pleasure. You're out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it's not a good thing."

It's not just March.

"It's been ongoing for several months," said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Meteorologists say an unusual confluence of several weather patterns, including La Nina, was the direct cause of the warm start to 2012. While individual events cannot be blamed on global warming, Couch said this is like the extremes that are supposed to get more frequent because of manmade climate change from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

It is important to note that this unusual winter heat is mostly a North American phenomenon. Much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has been cold, said NOAA meteorologist Martin Hoerling.

Nor is this type of heat unprecedented. 

Of the top five warmest months of March in North Carolina, two happened in the 1940s, one in the 1970s and in 2007. The second hottest March on record, 1945, was only 0.3 degrees away from the high of March 2012.

"Yes, there's some concern about global warming, but it was interesting to see that most of these were pretty far away in terms of years," Gardner said.

The first quarter of 2012 broke the January-March record by 1.4 degrees. Usually records are broken by just one- or two-tenths of a degree. U.S. temperature records date from 1895.

The atypical heat goes back even further. The U.S. winter of 2010-2011 was slightly cooler than normal and one of the snowiest in recent years, but after that things started heating up. The summer of 2011 was the second warmest summer on record.

The winter that just ended, which in some places was called the year without winter, was the fourth warmest on record. Since last April, it has been the hottest 12-month stretch on record.

But the month where the warmth turned especially weird in the United States was March.

Normally, March averages 42.5 degrees F across the country. This year, the average was 51.1 F, which is closer to the average for April. Only one other time, in January 2006, was the country as a whole that much hotter than normal for an entire month.

The "icebox of America," International Falls, Minnesota, often the nation's coldest city, saw temperatures in the 70s F for five days in March (30s C for four days ), and there were only three days of below zero temperatures all month.

In March, at least 7,775 weather stations across the nation broke daily high temperature records, and another 7,517 broke records for night-time heat. Combined, that is more high temperature records broken in one month than ever before, Crouch said.

In a paper that NASA's top climate scientist, James Hansen, submitted to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and posted on a physics research archive, Hansen shows that heat extremes are not just increasing but are happening far more often than scientists thought.

What used to be a 1-in-400 hot temperature record is now a 1 in 10 occurrence, essentially 40 times more likely, said Hansen. The warmth in March is an ideal illustration of this, said Hansen, who also has become an activist in fighting fossil fuels.



National Climatic Data Center:

James Hansen's study on climate extremes:


Seth Borenstein be followed at


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  • Plenty Coups Apr 10, 2012

    "Again, 97-98% of climatologists disagree with you. per Plenty Coup"

    Dogman-"Wrong again:"

    Please explain how I'm wrong? You have a link to an opinion article, from a conservative source, which admits that 89% of meteorologists (who aren't climatologists) believe in global warming. The author ties to spin the data by implying that this is some type of scandal as the are unclear on the long term consequences. But it doesn't address the fact that most DO believe in global warming. He forgets to mention that only 4 % of the meteorologists don't believe in global warming. But even so, I was talking about climatologists, not meteorologists, the ones who study climate. The data is clear, 97 -98% of them believe in global warming. Sorry.

  • simplelogic Apr 10, 2012

    LOL jblake...when I was five years old, I thought that if it was cloudy where I was, it was cloudy all over the world. Here's a hint: check the satellite image. It IS cloudy over parts of the state of North Carolina.

  • jblake1932 Apr 10, 2012

    "Partly to mostly cloudy"? What state are these meterologists giving the forecast for? It's completely CLEAR and beautiful outside, not a cloud in the sky!!

  • simplelogic Apr 10, 2012

    Dogman, meteorologists are not climatologists, regardless of their opinions.

  • Dogman Apr 10, 2012

    "Again, 97-98% of climatologists disagree with you. per Plenty Coup"

    Wrong again:

  • dumbhick Apr 10, 2012

    The temps are actually normal, the lefties are just falsifying the records. Texas, or NC for that matter, hasn't been in drought conditions the past 2 years, more lefty propaganda.
    As long as I deny it's happening then it ain't really happening.

    How's that? Did I pass the Republican test?

  • simplelogic Apr 10, 2012

    Plenty Coups, that's the strategy...when you can't refute the evidence, discredit the source any way you can. Doesn't change the evidence, of course. I have no idea why people have such a hard time accepting the fact that the earth is getting warmer. I guess they so desperately want to believe that it isn't true. It is a hard thing to swallow, especially when you think of the kids and grandkids that will be forced to deal with it. I don't want to think it's true either, but it's better to start thinking of ways to reverse it or at least adapt to it than to continue fighting those that are trying to do just that. But people - even those with kids and grandkids - really HATE the idea that they may be forced to change their habits. We're addicted to convenience in this country - nobody really wants to spend any of their time, money or energy on this if it can be held off until they're gone. Then the kids/grandkids can handle it. They're smart, they can do it. Right? Right?

  • Plenty Coups Apr 9, 2012

    ""Climatologist"...what's that the weather equivalent to a degree in women's studies?"

    Again, you're not interested in evidence. You are simply an ideologist.

  • Plenty Coups Apr 9, 2012

    affirmitive-"In other words...only PhD's who share your opinion are worthy..."

    Umm, maybe people who study climate? That actually publish their findings in peer related journals using the scientific method? Would you feel comfortable with getting a heart transplant by an eye doctor?

  • affirmativediversity Apr 9, 2012

    Again, 97-98% of climatologists disagree with you. per Plenty Coup


    "Climatologist"...what's that the weather equivalent to a degree in women's studies?