March in the West
A series of atmospheric river events brought above normal precipitation to the Northwest for the second consecutive month. The Southwest continued to see predominantly drier than normal conditions, though precipitation was more plentiful than in February. Temperatures were generally mild and seasonable throughout the West, with the Southwest experiencing slightly warmer than normal temperatures, and the northern tier of the region colder than normal temperatures.
Many locations in the Pacific Northwest saw a top-10 wettest March this month. Seattle, Washington airport experienced its wettest March in a 67-year record at 9.44 in (240 mm) of rainfall, 5.72 in (145 mm) greater than normal. Portland, Oregon, tied 1957 for second wettest March since records began in 1938 at 7.52 in (191 mm), 3.84 in (98 mm) above normal. Wet weather continued for Montana as well, where Kalispell recorded 2.44 in (62 mm) this month, the 4th wettest march since records began in 1896. Much of Idaho also saw a wet month. Boise picked up 2.34 in (59 mm) precipitation for the 5th wettest March in the past 75 years. Northern California received above normal precipitation this month, slowing the loss of a meager and dwindling snowpack and reservoir storage. Over the course of March, Lake Shasta, California’s largest reservoir, increased storage from 53% to 60% of the long term average. Across the West, snowpack generally increased or held steady as a percent of average through the month. The greatest gains in snowpack were observed in the northern Cascades and Rockies, while areas of the southern Rockies and mountain ranges of Arizona and New Mexico experienced a decrease. Despite this month’s snowfall, a wide swath of below normal snowpack remains stretching from southern Oregon through California eastward to New Mexico. At month’s end, California’s statewide snow water equivalent was only 32% of average.
A wet Pacific storm brought significant precipitation to the Southwest over the first two days of March, though little to no precipitation was recorded for the remainder of the month. Precipitation in Flagstaff, Arizona, totaled 1.24 in (31 mm), with 1.13 in (29 mm) falling on the first two days of the month. This was the 20th driest March since Flagstaff’s records began in 1893. Below normal precipitation was observed in New Mexico as well, where Albuquerque recorded only 0.22 in (6 mm), 39% of normal. Las Vegas, Nevada, recorded no precipitation this month, tied with 6 other years for driest March since records began in 1937. Drier than normal conditions also prevailed in central and southern California, where Fresno logged 31% of its normal rainfall at 0.62 in (16 mm) for the 18th driest March in the last 67 years. Los Angeles recorded 1.18 in (30 mm) for the month, 49% of normal. All but 0.01 in (<1 mm) of this rainfall came over the first 2 days of the month. California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona all saw large areas of worsening drought conditions during March.
Cooler than normal temperatures were observed in the northern tier of the West, while warmer than normal temperatures dominated across the Southwest. Cut Bank, Montana, recorded an average 25.3 F (-3.7 C) for the month, 6.2 F (3.4 C) below normal and the 25th coldest March in a 112-year record. Further south, temperatures in Salt Lake City, Utah, averaged to 49 F (9.4 C), 5.4 F (3 C) above normal and the third warmest March since records began in 1928. In central California, this March replaced March 2013 as Fresno’s second warmest in a 67-year record at an average 62.4 F (16.9 C). In southern California, San Diego saw its warmest March on record at 64.1 F (17.8 C), 4.7 F (2.6 C) above normal. Records for San Diego began in 1939. Arizona saw warmer than normal temperatures as well. Phoenix recorded an average of 69 F (20.6 C), the 7th warmest March since records began in 1933 and the third consecutive month that average temperatures at Phoenix have been among the top-10 on record.
After a drier than normal February, wet conditions returned to Hawaii’s windward areas. Kahului, Maui recorded 3.75 in (95 mm) of precipitation this month, 153% of normal and the 18th wettest March in 80 years of record-keeping. Further north, this month was drier than normal for much of Alaska. Yakutat received 4.05 in (103 mm) of rainfall this month, 37% of normal and the 9th driest March since records began in 1917. McGrath also experienced its 9th driest March with 0.04 in (1 mm), 5% of normal. Records at McGrath began in 1939. Temperatures were near normal throughout Alaska, with a gradient of warmer than normal temperatures in the northwest to slightly cooler than normal temperatures in the southeast. Extreme warmth was observed along the North Slope, where Barrow recorded an average -4.8 F (-20.4 C) for the month, the 3rd warmest March in approximately 94 years of records. Barrow experienced its warmest January-March on record in 2014 with temperatures averaging -6.0 F (-21.1 C), exceeding the previous record of -7.3 F (-21.8 C) set for this period in 1963.
Significant Events for March 2014
March 22: Landslide near Oso, Washington: A series of heavy precipitation events in the northern Cascades over the past month primed the area for landslides. A large section of hillside above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River failed slid, resulting in at least 29 fatalities at report time, leveling of homes, and covering portions of state route 530. Rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts were still underway at month’s end.
Early start to Arizona fire season: Dry conditions this winter led to an early start to the fire season in the Arizona. The fire season typically begins in May, though 190 small fires had already occurred year-to-date by March 27.