Updated 03 April 2012

Drought conditions

The unusual warmer-than-average temperatures that engulfed most of the United States during mid-March 2012 was accompanied by very dry conditions. These conditions contributed to the development of wildfires across parts of the central U.S., burning thousands of acres, destroying homes, and claiming the lives of four people. The early start of wildfires across the nation was attributed to the warmer-than-average temperatures the U.S. experienced during the winter 2012 and light snow pack, allowing grass to grow and in some areas drying out, leaving plenty of fuel for wildfires. On March 18th, a wildfire in eastern Colorado injured three firefighters and destroyed two homes. During the last week of March, Colorado's State Forest Service conducted a "controlled" burn near Denver in order to reduce vegetation that could fuel wildfires near homes. However, strong winds in the area reignited the fire. The wind made matters worse as it blew the fire in unpredictable directions in minutes. The fire became out of control, charring 4,500 acres (1,821 hectares), forcing 900 families to evacuate their homes, destroying or damaging at least 27 homes, and was responsible for two fatalities and one missing person. This fire was so intense that it melted farm and construction machinery, leaving a stream of molten metal. In addition, two fatalities were attributed to a wildfire in Wisconsin.

Extreme Temperatures

North America Temperature Anomalies during March 8-15, 2012
North America Temperature Anomalies
during March 8-15, 2012
Source: NASA's Earth Observatory

Exceptional warmth affected a large portion of the U.S. throughout most of March 2012. The source responsible for the summer-like temperatures felt across most of the eastern half of the U.S. was an upper-level high pressure system that stalled over the eastern United States. This weather pattern allowed for warm air from the south flow towards the northern areas of the U.S., resulting in warmer-than-average temperatures. Several locations across the northern U.S. observed temperatures over 21°C (70°F), with some locations registering maximum temperatures over 27°C (80°F). The extraodirnary warm spell resulted in nearly 8,000 daily records for high maximum temperatures and over 7,000 daily records for high minimum temperatures during March 2012, nearly double the broken records experienced during the August 2011 heat wave. The Midwestern U.S. was hardest hit, setting alone over 3,000 daily records for high maximum temperatures and over 3,000 daily records for high minimum temperatures. According to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, temperatures across the region during mid-March were generally 11°C to 17°C (20°F to 30°F) above average, with some locations setting records for the warmest March temperature. In some instances, the difference between the new record and the old record were as high as 8°C to 11°C (15°F to 20°F). Overall, March 2012 was the warmest March on record for the Midwestern region since regional records began in 1910. In addition, several locations set records for the most consecutive days with daily record highs in March, most consecutive days with temperatures above 27°C (80°F) in March, for the most days with temperatures above 27°C (80°F), and the earliest occurrence of 27°C (80°F) weather. The prolonged warm spell led to a premature leaf and bloom for many plants and trees across the United States. The last year the Midwestern region saw a premature bloom of trees was in 2007. Please see NCDC's National Overview and U.S. Records page for more information on the exceptional warm spell and broken records.

The upper-level high pressure system that brought summer-like temperatures across parts of the United States during most of March moved over Western Europe. Similar to the U.S., a warm spell plagued the European countries during the last week of March, resulting in record-breaking springtime temperatures. Temperature records were broken across Scotland. On March 25th, 2012, the temperature rose to 22.8°C (73°F) in Aberdeenshire—the warmest March temperature on record for the country. The previous record of 22.2°C (72°F) was set in 1957 and again in 1965. Nevertheless, the record set on March 25th only lasted for a day, as temperatures continued to rise, setting new national records during two consecutive days. The new national record of 23.6°C (74.5°F) was set on March 27th, beating the previous national record of 23.2°C (73.8°F) set on the previous day.

Heavy rainfall and flooding

Regions of Wagga Wagga submerged in New South Wales, Australia on 06 March 2012
Eastern Australia Flooding
06 March 2012
Source: Reuters

Days of heavy rainfall impacted the Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria near the beginning of March. Some locations in Victoria broke monthly rainfall records in just a single day on March 2nd. Wodonga recorded 88 mm (3.46 inches) of rainfall in the span of a few hours, which broke the previous March monthly record of 84 mm (3.31 inches) set in 1926. An estimated 70 percent of New South Wales was flooded or under threat of flooding on March 5th. About 13,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes due to rising flood waters, including about 8,000 in Wagga Wagga. And it wasn't just humans that fled their homes. Thousands of wolf spiders near Wagga Wagga also sought higher ground during the floods, spinning webs in fields and trees to avoid the deluge. When people are able to return home, it is expected that the spiders will do the same. March is typically one of the driest months of the year in this region.

For a second time during 2012, nearly half of Viti Levu, Fiji was affected by severe floods. Torrential downpours, brought by a tropical depression, fell during March 29th, prompting flash floods in low-lying areas in the Western Division in Viti Levu. According to media reports, flooding levels were higher than those experienced during the end of January 2012, which claimed 11 lives. Nearly 9,000 people were evacuated as rising floodwaters submerged their homes. The copious rain was responsible for leaving residents stranded as roads and bridges were inaccessible, and prompted the government to declare a state of natural disaster. Five fatalities were reported with four other people missing.

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Severe Storms

Severe storms moving across the Midwest and Southeast U.S. on 02 March 2012
U.S. Storms
02 March 2012
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

On March 2nd, severe thunderstorms led to one of the worst March tornado outbreaks in U.S. history. A preliminary count of 120 tornadoes, as reported by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, left massive destruction in their wake across parts of the Midwest and Southeast. At least 39 people were killed in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed in about a dozen states. The average number of tornadoes for the entire month of March is 80. One of the hardest-hit areas was Clark County, Indiana, where an EF-4 tornado, with winds whipping up to 175 mph (282 km/hr), struck the town of Henryville. In its entirety, the tornado left a 49-mile (79-km) long path of "total devastation", as described by an Indiana state police sargeant.

Hawaii Record Hailstone
Hawaii Record Hailstone
Source: NOAA's NWS

A severe thunderstorm affected eastern Oahu, Hawaii on March 9th. The storm spawned a waterspout that moved onshore, thus becoming a weak tornado. The EF-0 tornado caused damage to several homes and downed trees in the towns of Lanikai and Kailua. Tornadoes are rare in the Hawaiian Islands, averaging one tornado per year. This was the first tornado on Oahu since February 2009. The storm also produced large record-breaking hail. Hail of 2 to 3 inches in diameter were reported. In the town of Kailua a hailstone 4.25 inches long, 2.25 inches tall, and 2 inches wide was reported—the largest hailstone on record for the state of Hawaii. The previous record was 1 inch in diameter. Prior to this event there were no reports of hail bigger than an inch since the Hawaiian hailstone records began in 1950.

In the contiguous U.S., spring storms brought a mix of severe weather across the central and southern regions of the nation on March 18th, threatening the region with tornadoes, heavy downpours, and vicious winds. Preliminary reports state that the storms spawned a total of 55 tornadoes across the region. Thunderstorms produced five tornadoes (1 EF-0, 1 EF-1, 1 EF-2, and 2 EF-3) in Lincoln county, Nebraska which caused damage to homes and outbuildings, and downed power lines and trees in several locations. Five people were reportedly injured. In Gardendale, Texas, the strong winds produced by the severe storms overturned a mobile home, injuring the two residents. On March 19th, a tornado touched down in San Antonio, Texas, leaving 50 homes either damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, no fatalities or injuries were reported.

A severe storm with strong winds affected the Australian city of Townsville (located in the state of Queensland) on March 20th. The storm produced what was locally called a "mini-tornado" since local meteorologists did not officially call the weather phenomenon a tornado. The "mini-tornado" downed trees and power lines and caused roof damage to nearly 60 homes. Thirteen people were reportedly injured.

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Tropical Cyclones

Tropical Storm Irina moving across the island nation of Madagascar in the South Indian Ocean on 01 March 2012
Tropical Storm Irina
01 March 2012
Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Tropical Storm Irina skirted down the western coast of Madagascar during the first few days of March, killing at least 65 people, mostly in the town of Ifanadiana. The storm affected nearly 68,000 people and left more than 21,000 homeless. Tropical Cyclone Giovanna struck Madagascar just a few weeks earlier, and Irina destroyed roads and residences already weakened by the effects of Giovanna. The storm also affected countries in southern Africa, resulting in four fatalities in South Africa and eight in Mozambique (including five fisherman off the nation's coast). In Durban, waves reached 16 feet (three meters), closing beaches and forcing ships to remain in port.

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Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Global Hazards for March 2012, published online April 2012, retrieved on July 16, 2024 from https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/hazards/201203.