Global Hazards - March 2003

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.

Global Focus
Satellite image depicting a storm system affecting the Middle East during March 23-25, 2003 Wind, Rain and Sandstorm Affect the Middle East
Global Hazards and Significant Events March 2003
A powerful storm system affected the Middle East during March 24-26, bringing a variety of weather conditions to the region. Additional information can be found below.

Drought conditions
While beneficial precipitation fell throughout parts of the Western United States during March, severe to exceptional drought continued throughout much of the Intermountain region and into areas of the Great Plains eastward into the southern Great Lakes. For detailed information on drought conditions in the United States, see the March drought pages. Click Here for the drought depiction on March 25, 2003
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Click here for the CAMS precipitation anomaly estimates for New Zealand during March 2003 larger image Across New Zealand, a prolonged dry spell brought drought and high fire danger to much of the country (New Zealand Herald).
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Heavy rainfall and flooding
The remnants of Tropical Cyclone Japhet, which moved into Mozambique on the 2nd, brought heavy rains to the region during the first week of March. Parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe experienced strong gusty winds and locally torrential rainfall, which produced areas of flooding. In Mozambique, over 50,000 people were affected, leaving thousands cut off from desperately needed food supplies (WFP). Click Here for a satellite image showing the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Japhet affecting areas of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe
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Click here for the wetness anomaly map for Africa larger image In Malawi, flooding rains around the 10th damaged a major power station, causing widespread power failures and water shortages in the country's two main cities (Associated Press). The areas affected by heavy precipitation and flooded are visible in the figure of surface wetness.

In South Africa, two separate storm systems brought heavy rain to Western Cape Province during the 18th-19th and again during the 24th-25th. Rainfall totals locally exceeded 200 mm (7.87 inches), which produced extensive flooding throughout the province.

Heavy rain and snow which began in February 2003 continued in early March across areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The precipitation provided relief to this region, which has suffered through drought for the past four years. Afghanistan's head of the Hydrology and Water Control Department said that recent snow and rainfall had restored the country's water resources to 75 percent of their normal levels (ENS).

Heavy rainfall continued during March 17-23 across areas of northern Afghanistan, producing flooding in parts of Samangan and Kunduz provinces. The flooding was responsible for at least 11 deaths and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes (Associated Press). Click Here for a map of wetness anomalies across Afghanistan during March 12-18, 2003
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In South America, heavy rains on the 20th in Colombia's mountainous coffee-growing region caused mudslides which damaged dozens of homes and killed 11 people in the city of Manizales, located about 160km (100 miles) northwest of Bogota. In Villamaria, four people were killed by mudslides, while 4 other people drowned in flooding along the eastern border city of Cucuta (

For an archive of flood events worldwide, see the Dartmouth Flood Observatory.

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Severe Storms
In the United States, severe thunderstorms, which affected southern Georgia early on the 20th, produced a tornado that resulted in severe damage and loss of life in Mitchell and Worth counties. The storm claimed 6 lives and resulted in 25 injuries (Associated Press). Radar image depicting severe storms over south Georgia on March 20, 2003
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Farther south in Florida, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes killed one and injured eight on the afternoon of March 28.

Click here a satellite image depicting severe thunderstorms affecting eastern India on March 12, 2003 larger image Severe thunderstorms affected eastern India on the 12th and resulted in 30 deaths and 500 injuries in the state of West Bengal (OCHA/Associated Press). Strong winds and hail uprooted trees, flattened hundreds of homes, killed thousands of cattle and poultry and damaged crops in the Howrah, Bankura and Hooghly districts of West Bengal state.

Thunderstorms which affected eastern India late on the 12th also affected adjacent areas of Bangladesh on the 14th. Winds gusting to 100 km/hr (~55 knots or 60 mph) leveled more than 500 mud-and-thatch huts leaving thousands homeless and 50 injured in the Magura district (Associated Press).

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Tropical Cyclones
Tropical Cyclone Japhet developed off the west coast of Madagascar on the 26th and tracked slowly westward across the Mozambique Channel. The cyclone moved into southern Mozambique on the 2nd with maximum sustained winds near 160 km/hr (85 knots or 95 mph). Strong winds and heavy rains exceeding 190 mm (7.5 inches) were reported in parts of Mozambique, with the most severe conditions noted in the southern Inhambane province. Click Here for a satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Japhet located in southern Mozambique on the 3rd
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Click here a satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Harriet on March 6, 2003 larger image Tropical Cyclone Harriet developed in the South Indian Ocean on the 2nd and was located about 330 km (~210 miles) northeast of Learmonth, Australia on the 6th with maximum sustained winds near 65 km/hr (35 knots or 40 mph). The system dissipated offshore by the 9th, but tracked close enough to shore to bring locally heavy showers and gusty winds to coastal areas of Western Australia.
Tropical Cyclone Craig developed in the Timor Sea on the 8th and made landfall in the Australian Northern Territory approximately 185 km (115 miles) east of Darwin on the 11th. Maximum sustained winds were near 65 km/hr (35 knots or 40 mph) as the storm came ashore. Heavy rainfall accompanied Craig as it moved slowly southeastward, finally dissipating over northern Queensland on the 12th. Click Here for a satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Craig located east of Darwin, Australia on the 8th
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Click here a satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Kalunde on March 13, 2003 larger image Tropical Cyclone Kalunde developed in the Indian Ocean on the 5th and passed across Rodrigues in the Mascarene Islands on the 12th with maximum sustained winds near 195 km/hr (105 knots or 120 mph). The cyclone dissipated over open waters of the southern Indian Ocean on the 15th.
Tropical Cyclone Erica developed over the Coral Sea on the 4th and crossed New Caledonia on the 13th with maximum sustained winds near 185 km/hr (100 knots or 115 mph). Erica caused two deaths on the island along with 100 injuries and an estimated 1,000 homeless (OCHA). The storm made landfall near Kone and produced the most significant damage along the west coast, including the capital city of Noumea. Click Here for a satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Erica located near the island of New Caledonia on the 13th
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Extratropical Cyclones
Click here an infrared satellite image of a storm system that affected Greece on March 17, 2003 larger image A powerful storm system moved across the Mediterranean Sea and affected Greece on March 17. The storm produced wind damage and power outages, with heavy snowfall in the southern Peloponnesian region (Associated Press). Hurricane-force winds also swept through parts of the Aegean Sea. This same weather system brought gusty winds and associated dust storms to areas of northern Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, and southern Iraq during the 18-19th.
A strong storm system crossed the eastern Mediterranean and affected the Middle East during March 24-26, bringing a variety of precipitation types to the region. In Israel, Jerusalem reported a mix of rain and snow on the 25th, while strong winds produced severe sandstorms over large portions of Saudia Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during the 25th-26th. Click Here for an infrared satellite animation of a storm system that affected the Middle East during March 24-26, 2003
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In addition to near-zero visibilities and strong winds gusting over 75 km/hr (40 knots or 45 mph), showers and thunderstorms preceded a strong cold front which swept across areas of eastern Iraq and Kuwait, severely affecting U.S. and coalition military operations in the area. Strong thunderstorms produced large hail that damaged some coalition aircraft flying missions in the Persian Gulf (CNN).

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Severe winter weather

A Pacific storm system, which moved into the northwestern United States during the 5th-6th, brought locally heavy rain and mountain snow to drought-affected areas of the Rockies. Numerous warnings for heavy snow were in effect on the 6th. Click Here for a map of National Weather Service warnings and advisories in effect on March 6, 2003
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Click here a radar animation from Boston on March 6, 2003 Radar Animation Another in a series of winter storms that affected the Northeast United States during the 2002-2003 winter season brought snow to the area on March 6th. Snow accumulations of 15-25 cm (6-10 inches) were common across parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and westward into the Poconos.

Heavy snow fell from the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia northeastward into New York during March 30-31st. Accumulations of 7-15 cm (3-6 inches) were common in these areas.

In North America, cold winter temperatures across the Great Lakes resulted in an unusually high ice concentration. More than 90 percent of lakes Superior, Erie and Huron were frozen by March 10, which is the most ice cover on the Great Lakes since February 1994 (Duluth News Tribune). Click Here for a map of ice cover on the Great Lakes on March 10, 2003 from the National Ice Center
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Click here an infrared satellite animation of the storm system that brought very heavy snow to the Colorado Rockies during March 17-29, 2003 Click for larger AVI Loop (5.0MB) Colorado's biggest winter storm of the season dumped several feet of snow on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains during March 17-19. Snowfall was heaviest in Gilpin county, located west of Denver, where up to 222 cm (87.5 inches) of snow fell.
The Denver International Airport was closed on the 19th, and the main terminal was temporarily evacuated due to the possibility of a roof collapse from the weight of heavy snow ( This (80.8 cm or 31.8 inches) was Denver's second biggest snowstorm ever recorded, and resulted in the snowiest March on record for the city. (The most snow ever recorded in a single Denver snowstorm was 116 cm or 45.7 inches measured during the blizzard of December 1-6 of 1913.) Preliminary damage estimates from the storm were near $34 million (Associated Press). Heavy snow accumulations in the Denver, Colorado area on March 19, 2003
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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 2003, published online April 2003, retrieved on January 20, 2018 from