Storms brought record precipitation and drought relief to parts of the West
- The average temperature of the contiguous U.S. in March 2023 was 40.7°F, which is 0.8°F below average, ranking in the middle third of the record.
- March precipitation for the contiguous U.S. was 2.81 inches, 0.30 inch above average, ranking in the wettest third of the historical record.
- Since January, a series of storms brought record amounts of rain and snow to California, decreasing the drought coverage from 98% on January 3 to 25% on April 4.
- Since October 2022, and the beginning of the western water year, 10 western U.S. counties ranked wettest on record with 60 additional counties experiencing a top-10 wettest event for this six-month period.
- During the first quarter of 2023, January–March, no new billion-dollar weather and climate disasters were confirmed, although several events are being evaluated and will be updated in early May.
- Much of the eastern U.S. had a warm start to 2023. For the January–March period, five states were record warmest with 24 additional states experiencing a top-10 warmest event for this period.
- According to the April 4 U.S. Drought Monitor report, about 28.2% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. Moderate to exceptional drought was widespread across much of the Great Plains, with moderate to extreme drought in parts of the Northwest and Florida. Moderate to severe drought was in parts of the northern Rockies, northern Plains, and Southwest with moderate drought in parts of the Mid-Atlantic, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Generally, temperatures were above average from the southern Plains to New England and in parts of the Great Lakes, with below-average temperatures from the northern Plains to the West Coast. Florida had its eighth-warmest March in the 129-year record. Conversely, Oregon ranked third coldest while California, Nevada, and North Dakota each ranked fifth coldest and Utah had its seventh-coldest March on record.
For the January–March period, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 37.4°F, 2.3°F above average, ranking 20th warmest in the 129-year record. Temperatures were above average across much of the eastern U.S. with near- to below-average temperatures from the northern Plains to the West Coast. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida each had their warmest January–March period on record. New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, and Alabama each had their second warmest, while 16 additional states ranked among their warmest 10 year-to-date periods on record.
The Alaska statewide March temperature was 13.3°F, 2.5°F above the long-term average. This March was in the warmest third of the 99-year period of record for the state. Temperatures were above average across the North Slope, in large portions of western Alaska and in parts of the Aluetians. Much of the interior and southern parts of the state were near normal while the Panhandle experienced below-average temperatures for the month.
The Alaska January-March temperature was 10.0°F, 4.1°F above the long-term average, ranking in the warmest third of the record for the state. Above-average temperatures were observed across almost the entire state for this three-month period.
Precipitation was above average across much of the West, from eastern Oklahoma to the Great Lakes and in parts of the northern Plains and Northeast. Precipitation was below average from eastern New Mexico to the central Plains, in the Mid-Atlantic, and in parts of the Northwest, Gulf Coast and Northeast. Utah ranked third wettest, while Nevada and California had their sixth- and seventh-wettest March on record, respectively. On the dry side, Virginia ranked eighth driest while Maryland and Delaware both experienced their 11th-driest March in the 129-year record.
The January–March precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 7.75 inches, 0.79 inch above average, ranking in the wettest third of the historical record. Precipitation was above average from California to the Upper Midwest, in the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys, and in parts of the Southeast and Northeast. Wisconsin and Utah each ranked third wettest, Nevada ranked eighth wettest, while California, Michigan and Arkansas each ranked 10th wettest for this three-month period. Precipitation was below average across portions of the Northwest, northern and southern Plains, Mid-Atlantic and Florida, and in parts of the Northeast. Maryland and Delaware ranked third and fifth driest on record, respectively.
Monthly precipitation averaged across the state of Alaska was 2.38 inches, ranking near-normal in the 99-year record. Conditions were wetter than average across much of the northern half of the state and in parts of the Aleutians and Panhandle. The southeast Interior and parts of the Southwest and Panhandle were near average while south central Alaska and much of the Panhandle experienced below average precipitation for the month.
The January–March precipitation ranked in the wettest third of the 99-year record for Alaska, with above-average precipitation observed across much of the eastern Interior and in parts of the Panhandle while the North Slope and West Coast were much wetter than average. The central Interior and parts of the Southwest and Southeast were near average while south central Alaska and parts of the Aleutians experienced below-average precipitation during this period.
Other Notable Events
Since October 1, 2022, when the water year begins for most of the West Coast, there have been 31 atmospheric river events—11 weak, 13 moderate, 6 strong and 1 extreme—according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. These events brought heavy rain and snowfall to much of the western U.S.
- According to the California Department of Water Resources, the statewide snowpack is among the deepest ever recorded for the end of March—237% of normal.
- Mammoth Mountain, California, recorded their snowiest season on record with more than 870 inches on the summit.
- The Central Sierra Snow Lab surpassed 700 inches of snowfall for the season—the second-highest total on record since 1951.
- Record snowfall amounts were set at several ski resorts in Utah—Brighton, Solitude and Alta have all reported more than 700 inches of snowfall this season.
- Flagstaff, Arizona, received nearly 160 inches of snow this year—the snowiest winter in more than 40 years.
- According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought conditions in the West improved from 73.5% coverage on November 1, 2022, to 30.9% on April 4, 2023.
Several notable weather systems produced severe thunderstorms and a number of tornadoes that impacted portions of the U.S. in March.
- A tornado outbreak occurred across portions of the Ohio River Valley, southern Plains and Southeast on March 1–3. A total of 36 tornadoes, including two EF-2 tornadoes, was confirmed by the National Weather Service.
- On March 16, a rare tornado touched down in Las Pierdas, Puerto Rico, causing damage to a strip mall.
- An EF-1 tornado touched down in the Los Angeles area becoming the strongest tornado to hit the area since 1983 on March 22.
- On March 24–26, a tornado outbreak occurred across portions of the Southeast and caused catastrophic damage in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. A total of 41 tornadoes, including an EF-4 and three EF-3s, was confirmed by the National Weather Service.
- On March 31, nearly 28 million people were under tornado watches as a widespread and deadly tornado outbreak occurred across portions of the Midwest and southern U.S. More than 110 tornadoes, including an EF-4 and eight EF-3s, were confirmed by the National Weather Service—the largest outbreak in a 24-hour period for the month of March.
On March 13–15, the largest winter storm of the season to hit the Northeast brought heavy snowfall over large parts of the Northeast with accumulations up to 40 inches in the higher elevations.
According to the April 4 U.S. Drought Monitor report, about 28.2% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down about 10.3% from the end of February. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across much of the Mid-Atlantic, Florida Panhandle and Puerto Rico, portions of the southern Plains, and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, central Plains and Hawaii. Drought contracted or was eliminated across large parts of the West, in portions of the northern Plains, and in parts of Michigan and the Southeast.
Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters
During the first quarter of 2023, no billion-dollar weather and climate disasters were confirmed, although several events are currently being evaluated.
In early April 2023, NCEI added an additional seven historical weather and climate events which, through inflation and review, surpassed the billion-dollar threshold. The U.S. has now sustained 348 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (based on Consumer Price Index adjustment to 2023). The total cost of these 348 events exceeds $2.510 trillion.
According to the March 31 One-Month Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, areas from the southern Plains to the Northeast and northwestern Alaska favor above-normal monthly mean temperatures in April, with the greatest odds likely to occur along the Gulf Coast states to North Carolina. The best chances for below-normal temperatures are forecast from the West Coast to the Upper Midwest and in parts of southern Alaska. The Northwest and from the southern Plains to Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, as well as parts of northern Alaska, are favored to see above-normal monthly total precipitation. Below-normal precipitation is most likely to occur in the Southwest U.S. and in parts of southwest Alaska. Drought improvement or removal is forecast in portions of the West, Plains and Michigan, while persistence is more likely in portions of the Great Basin, Southwest, Great Plains, Florida and in parts of the Rockies, the Gulf Coast and the Mid-Atlantic. Drought development is likely across parts of the Mid-Atlantic region.
According to the One-Month Outlook issued on April 1 from the National Interagency Fire Center, portions of the Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Alaska have above-normal significant wildland fire potential during April, while portions of the northern Plains and other parts of the Southwest are expected to have below-normal potential for the month.
This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making. For more detailed climate information, check out our comprehensive March 2023 U.S. Climate Report scheduled for release on April 13, 2023.