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This is the Department of Commerce logo Climate of 2004
March in Historical Perspective

National Climatic Data Center
15 April 2004

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Selected Global Significant Events for March 2004

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Major Highlights


Virtually all parts of the contiguous United States were warmer than average in March 2004, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, N.C. The Southeast and parts of the Northeast and West were unusually dry, while precipitation was above average across the middle of the nation. The global monthly average temperature was the second warmest on record for the month of March.

NOAA scientists report that the average temperature for the contiguous United States in March (based on preliminary data) was 47.7°F (8.7°C), which was 5.2°F (2.9°C) above the 1895-2003 mean, the third warmest March on record. Florida was the only state in the coniguous United States with a near-normal March temperature. The mean temperature in 17 western and central states was much above average, including New Mexico, which had its warmest March on record. An additional 30 states were warmer than average. The Southwest region as a whole had its warmest March on record. Conversely, Alaska was cooler than average with a statewide temperature that was 1.8°F (1.0°C) below the 1971-2000 mean.

Precipitation for the contiguous United States as a whole was below average, with much of the West, Southeast, and Northeast drier than normal. However, wetter than average conditions occurred in 12 states along a broad path from Texas to Minnesota. The Southeast region (consisting of states from Alabama to Virginia) has its driest March on record. The January-March 2004 period was generally drier than average for much of the East Coast in marked contrast to 2003, which had record or near-record precipitation for many states.

Below average precipitation occurred in many areas of the West where drought has persisted for much of the past four to five years. The drier than average conditions along with much warmer than normal temperatures contributed to record snowpack losses during the month and left mountain snowpack levels below average in most parts of the West. Despite the rapid snowmelt, reservoir levels remained below average in many areas. By the end of the month, the drought area had expanded to include 59% of the western United States in moderate to extreme drought, based on a widely used measure of drought, the Palmer Drought Index. The most extensive drought on record for the West occurred in July 1934, when 97% of the region was in moderate to extreme drought.

Globe: The average global surface temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during March 2004 (based on preliminary data) was 1.3°F (0.7°C) above the 1880-2003 long-term mean. This was the 2nd warmest March since 1880 (the beginning of reliable instrumental records), slightly cooler than March 2002. Land surface temperatures were anomalously warm throughout most parts of the world, while temperatures in much of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific remained near average as the neutral phase of ENSO (El Nino/Souther Oscillation) continued.

The first documented hurricane in the South Atlantic Ocean (since satellite records began in 1966) occurred during March and struck Brazil on March 28. The hurricane made landfall along the southern coast of Brazil in the state of Santa Catarina just south of the resort town of Laguna. Maximum sustained winds were estimated between 75 to 80 mph (65 to 70 knots or 120-130 km/hr) with gusts to 95 mph (85 knots or 155 km/hr).

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