Welcome to meteorological spring! For me, that means focusing on blooming flowers rather than snowstorms. So what does the March 2021 outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center show? For the central/eastern United States, a warmer-than-average month is forecast, with a higher likelihood for drier conditions across the southern United States into the western Plains.
A reminder: the climate outlook maps are not a forecast for the absolute temperature or precipitation amounts in March. Instead, they are the probability (percent chance) that March temperatures or precipitation will be in the upper, middle, or lower third of the climatological record (1981-2010) for March (note: the climatological record will shift to 1991-2020 later this year). We refer to these categories as “well above” and “well below” average. The colors (red or blue for temperatures, brown or teal for precipitation) indicate which outcome is the most likely. Darker colors reflect higher chances of a given outcome; not more extreme conditions. Head to the end of this post for more on the math behind the outlooks.
Warm start to spring
There’s a lot of red on the temperature outlook map for March, indicating that for much of the country, March is favored to be much warmer than average. In fact, from the Rocky Mountains on east, there is a tilt in the odds towards a warmer month. The highest likelihood (50-60%) of a warmer-than-average March is over the Great Lakes and Southeast United States. In contrast, the West Coast stretching north to coastal Alaska is forecast to observe a colder-than-average month.
In general, the West Coast observed a warmer-than-average winter so a cooler-than-average March will be a change of pace. The same goes for the central United States, which observed a record-breaking Arctic blast in February and is now forecast to see warmer-than-average temperatures.
One source of uncertainty for the next month is any influence from the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO). The location across the tropics of this climate phenomena can impact the location and strength of the jet stream and temperature patterns across the United States. If the MJO moves as predicted, it could increase the odds for below-normal-temperatures for the end of the month. Keep tuned into the week 2 and week 3&4 forecasts from CPC for more updates.
Drier-than-average conditions favored parts of the southern United States
For the southern tier of the United States from the Gulf Coast to the Southwest, a drier-than-average March is forecast. The greatest odds for below-average precipitation are across southern Florida, western Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.
In contrast, a swath of the northern United States from the Great Lakes through the Tennessee Valley is slightly favored to observe an above-average amount of precipitation during the next month. Those the odds are only slightly tilted towards a wetter-than-average month.
A drier-than-average monthly forecast has been common across the Southwest for quite a while, and has been verified in the extensive and deep drought currently in place across West, especially the Four Corners region. And it looks like March isn’t likely to provide much relief.
Extensive western drought to continue
With the lack of any clear wet signal for the United States during March coupled with dryness expected across parts of the Southwest, drought conditions are expected to persist across much of the western United States. In fact, drought may even expand in parts of central Texas and eastern Nebraska. Farther east, the warmer- and drier-than-average predictions for March in central/southern Florida also correlate to likely drought development during the next month.
In contrast, the small areas of drought scattered across the eastern United States are likely to be removed completely by the start of April.
To read the entire discussion of the monthly climate outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center, check out their website. And head back to Climate.gov later this month for a United States and global climate recap of February 2021.