'Astonishing' heat in March set records for the month

By Doyle Rice, USA TODAYUpdated 22m ago Comments 3

For tens of millions of Americans, last month was the warmest March in their lifetimes.

Meteorologists used the terms "staggering," "astonishing" and "incredible" to describe the heat across the eastern two-thirds of the nation that set thousands of temperature records for March in cities and towns from the Dakotas to Maine to Florida.

"It's almost like science fiction," weather historian Christopher Burt of the private forecasting company Weather Underground reported last month.

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Several large cities including Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington had their warmest March since records started being kept.

It was nearly a record warm March for New York City, Philadelphia and Denver, too. But temperature marks fell just short, and March will be recorded as a second-place finish, the Weather Channel reported.

Although nationwide figures won't be available for a few days, it's likely that March 2012 will go down as the warmest March on record in the USA.

"Across the nation, over 7,500 daily record high temperatures were set in March 2012," Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce reported.

In one week, from March 12-18, 3,125 daily record highs were set, which Weather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton said "is the most I have seen for a one-week period since tabulations began" in January 2000.

The warm month came on the heels of the fourth-warmest winter on record across the lower 48 states.

According to meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground, the unusual warmth was caused by a loop in the jet stream that created a large upper-level ridge of high pressure.

That ridge stuck over the Eastern USA a phenomenon known as a "blocking pattern."

The bizarre warm spell has spilled into early April: Sunday in Plains states, temperatures soared into the 80s as far north as South Dakota.

The heat will continue Monday in parts of the Midwest , where a record high of 91 degrees is forecast for St. Louis by the Weather Channel.

The latest forecast from the Climate Prediction Center shows continued warmth expected over much of the central USA for the next week to 10 days.

The heat confused plants and insects in March, leading to an unusually early blooming of the cherry trees in Washington. Apple and peach trees are already blooming in the Midwest.

"The last year fruit trees bloomed this early in the Midwest was in 2007, which resulted in a late freeze on Easter weekend, an event that is now leaving orchard owners nervous that a similar freeze could happen again this year," the Midwestern Regional Climate Center reported.

The only part of the nation that experienced a cooler-than-average month was the West Coast.

Seattle residents had a particularly dismal month: Chilly temperatures seldom rose out of the dreary 40s and 50s. The city also had 24 of 31 days with measurable rain

'Astonishing' heat in March set records for the month