Global Hazards - March 2002

Please note: Material provided in this report is chosen subjectively and included at the discretion of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The ability to report on a given event is limited by the amount of information available to NCEI at the time of publication. Inclusion of a particular event does not constitute a greater importance in comparison with an event that has not been incorporated into the discussion. Data included in this report are preliminary unless otherwise stated. Links to supporting information are valid at the time of publication, but they are not maintained or changed after publication.

Top of Page Special Highlight

On March 15, a large iceberg broke off from Antarctica’s Thwaites Ice Tongue, a large sheet of glacial ice and snow extending from the Antarctic mainland into the southern Amundsen Sea. The iceberg, designated B-22, covered an area of approximately 2,120 square miles (5,490 square kilometers), or roughly twice the size of Rhode Island. In addition, the Larsen B Ice Shelf located on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula shattered and separated from the continent during the last few months. Warming temperatures on parts of the Antarctic continent may be contributing to recent ice shelf collapses such as this.

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Top of Page Asia (Click for map)

A series of dust storms originating from the Gobi Desert affected the northern provinces of China, from Inner Mongolia eastward to the Yellow Sea. Beijing experienced visibilities that dropped to less than 90 meters (100 yards) on the 20th. China’s State Forestry Administration estimated that 130 million people across 1.4 million square kilometers (540,500 square miles) of northern China were affected by the dust storm. Drought across a large area of northern China influenced the severity of the dust storms, according to the China Meteorological Administration (Associated Press). By mid-month, the large plume of dust had crossed into the Sea of Japan, affecting South Korea and Japan.

Click here for a satellite image of a dust storm affecting eastern Asia
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Click here for the Asian temperature anomalies
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Temperatures across a vast expanse of Asia were above average during March, with monthly departures of 3-6°C (5.4-10.8;deg;F). Weekly temperatures were as much as 18°C (32°F) above average during mid-month across parts of Russia, Kazakhstan and China.

The unusually warm weather in the region promoted a contraction of snow cover across most areas south of 40° north latitude, with the exception of higher elevation locations.

Click here for the Asian snow cover loop
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Click here for the Asian temperature anomalies
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Below average precipitation characterized the weather across much of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan during March, with monthly precipitation ranging from 25-50 mm (0.98-1.97 inches) below average. Afghanistan began its fourth consecutive year of drought, with wet-season precipitation through the end of March insufficient to eliminate the ongoing long-term drought.

In southeast Asia, a prolonged drought is affecting many provinces in Vietnam, where around 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of rice fields have been affected (COMTEX). Farther east across the northern Philippines, seasonably dry weather affected areas that were experiencing long-term drought. In the Ilocos province over 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of farmland have been adversely impacted.

Top of Page Europe (Click for map)

An upper level ridge of high pressure (depicted by positive 500 millibar height anomalies) led to warmer than average temperatures across most of Europe, with monthly temperatures that were 1-3°C (1.8-5.4°F) above a 1992-2002 mean.

Click here for the European Temperature Anomalies map
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Click Here for the CAMS precipitation anomalies for Europe
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Dry conditions were also prevalent, with monthly precipitation deficits of 25-50 mm (0.98-1.97 inches) across parts of the British Isles, France, Italy and the Balkans.

Strong southwesterly winds ahead of a frontal system generated a dust storm over Tunisia and parts of Libya at the beginning of the month. The dust spread across Italy and Greece by the 3rd, reducing visibilities locally.

Click here for a satellite image of north African dust affecting Italy and Greece
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Top of Page Australia and Western Pacific (Click for map)

Click Here for the CAMS precipitation anomalies for March
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During March, the monsoon trough moved north of Australia with most wet-season rainfall restricted to areas from New Guinea to the Soloman Islands. As a result, much of northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia recorded much below average rainfall during the month.

Temperatures in Australia were generally within 2°C (3.6°F) of the average across the continent, with only parts of the Northern Territory and Western Australia slightly cooler than the mean

Click here for the Australian temperature anomalies map
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Click Here for a satellite image of typhoon Mitag
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In the western Pacific Ocean, tropical cyclone Mitag developed on February 28th and strengthened into a typhoon by March 1st. Mitag affected the islands in the Federated States of Micronesia during the first few days of March, impacting the main island of Yap on the third. Maximum sustained winds were near 95 knots (~50 m/s or 110 mph) as the storm passed the island, and the combination of strong winds, heavy rains and a large tidal surge flooded many areas and destroyed many crops (OCHA).

Top of Page Africa (Click for map)

Rainfall during March was concentrated across central African nations, including Angola, the Congo, and Gabon. Precipitation exceeded 300 mm (11.8 inches) across much of this area, with monthly surpluses of 25-50 mm (0.98-1.97 inches). A relatively dry month across the maize triangle region of South Africa, southern and central Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana exacerbated drought in this region.

March precipitation estimates from geostationary satellite
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Click Here for the CAMS precipitation estimates for March
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At least 565,000 people in central and southern Mozambique faced serious food shortages due to prolonged drought conditions (COMTEX). Across neighboring Zimbabwe, the dry conditions have impacted the maize and groundnut crops in Mhondaro, and local officials have estimated a 20-30 percent drop in anticipated maize harvest levels (COMTEX). Farther south in Swaziland, government officials reported that more than 150,000 people, over 10 percent of the country’s population, faced starvation within the next 3 months (Associated Press).

Tropical Cyclone Hary developed in the Indian Ocean on the 6th and tracked westward, brushing the northwestern tip of the island of Madagascar during the 9th-11th with torrential rains and strong winds. Maximum sustained winds were near 140 knots (160 mph or 72 m/s) as the cyclone passed near Antalaha, Sainte-Marie Island and Toamasina. The storm recurved and weakened over the open waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

Click here for a satellite image of tropical cyclone Hary along the northeast coast of Madagascar
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Click here for a map of the temperature anomalies for March
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The presence of dust and above average temperatures has resulted in an epidemic of meningitis in Burkina Faso where over 670 deaths were reported since the outbreak began in January (UN IRIN). Temperatures across most of Africa remained within 2°C (3.6°F) of average during March.

Top of Page North and Central America (Click for map)

CAMS temperature anomalies for North America
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A distinct upper level ridge of high pressure was associated with much warmer than average temperatures across the western half of Alaska and into the Northwest Territory where temperatures were 3-6°C (5.4-10.8°F) above a 1971-2000 mean. Meanwhile, a pronounced upper level trough of low pressure across most of southern Canada promoted much colder than average temperatures over this region, extending south into the northern tier of the United States. Temperature departures were 3-6°C (5.4-10.8°F) colder than average from the Canadian prairies southward into Montana and the Dakotas.
Click here for the CAMS precipitation anomaly estimates across North America
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Precipitation that was near to or slightly above normal across the eastern third of the United States brought some temporary relief to severe drought conditions which extended from Georgia to Maine. Meanwhile, federal officials declared a drought disaster for much of Montana due to the long term dryness.

While relatively dry conditions were common across the Alaskan coastal mountains during March, a winter storm system dumped 28.7 inches (72.9 cm) of snow on Anchorage during the 16th-17th, setting a new 24-hour snowfall record.

A storm system brought torrential rains to portions of the Tennessee Valley during the 16th-18th, with some areas in Kentucky and Tennessee receiving over 7 inches (178 mm) of rainfall.

Click here for a radar image depicting heavy rainfall across the Tennessee Valley
Radar composite depicting heavy rains
across the Tennessee Valley

Seasonably dry weather continued in March across Central America, where drought conditions persisted across much of Honduras and Guatemala. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) approved an emergency operation in Guatemala to assist 155,000 people suffering from acute malnutrition. In neighboring Honduras, at least 30,000 people in the drought stricken provinces of Copan, Santa Barbara and Lempira were suffering from food shortages and malnutrition (ENN, WFP).

Click here for the CAMS precipitation anomaly estimates across Central America
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Top of Page South America (Click for map)

GOES-8 colorized infrared satellite animation of thunderstorms over western Ecuador
Infrared satellite animation depicting
thunderstorms over western Ecuador
The date is March 3, 2002
Showers and thunderstorms were persistent throughout the month of March across portions of Peru and Ecuador along with areas of flooding. Coastal provinces of Ecuador, including Guayas, Los Rios and Manabi were most severely affected, with flooding responsible for 16 deaths and over 1,700 homeless throughout the country (OCHA). Flooding in Peru during the 16th-25th caused 13 deaths and damaged over 400 houses (COMTEX).
Relatively dry weather dominated much of Brazil during March, but an increase in precipitation during January and February prompted government officials to lift electricity rationing measures that had been in place since last June. Many reservoirs which supply water to hydropower plants had returned to more normal levels by the end of March. Click here for the CAMS precipitation anomaly estimates for South America
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Click here for the precipitation time series for Artigas, Uruguay
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Farther south across northern Argentina and Uruguay, heavy rainfall brought monthly precipitation surpluses of 100-300 mm (3.94-11.81 inches). Artigas, Uruguay received over 450 mm (18 inches) of rain during March, nearly three times the normal monthly amount.
Click here for a map of temperature anomalies across South America for March
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Above average temperatures were confined mainly to southern Brazil, extreme northern Argentina and much of Paraguay, with monthly departures of 1-3°C (1.8°F-5.4°F) above average. Meanwhile, a notable upper level trough of low pressure over southern Argentina and Chile was responsible for temperatures that were 1-3°C (1.8-°F-5.4°F) cooler than a 1992-2002 mean.

Top of Page References:

Basist, A., N.C. Grody, T.C. Peterson and C.N. Williams, 1998: Using the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager to Monitor Land Surface Temperatures, Wetness, and Snow Cover. Journal of Applied Meteorology, 37, 888-911.

Peterson, Thomas C. and Russell S. Vose, 1997: An overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network temperature data base. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78, 2837-2849.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Hazards for March 2002, published online April 2002, retrieved on January 24, 2018 from