PULLMAN, Wash. – As temperatures swiftly advanced and retreated to provide Northwest residents with glimpses of both summer and winter, Washington was a competitive battleground for starkly different air masses in March.
While much of the first week of the month was quite cool, very mild weather quickly followed and persisted through mid-March. Unusually cold weather the third week of March transitioned to the warmest weather of 2013 at the end of the month.
Early March was generally chilly, as cold upper-level low pressure brought several inches of snow to the Ellensburg area and a chilly, 40-degree high to Moxee on March 6. However, high temperatures warmed into the 60s a week later, and Alderdale reached 71 degrees on March 13.
The month ended with very warm weather, as temperatures rose to the 70s on Easter Sunday for the first time since October. Many of these areas had been in the teens just a few days earlier.
As cold air advanced again after mid-March, the weather pendulum swung sharply back toward winter. Temperatures on the morning of March 19 dropped to a chilly 18 degrees at LaCrosse. Benton City dropped to 18 degrees on March 24, which caused some cherry damage in the region.
The highest impact weather event of the month was the potent storm that affected Washington on March 19 and after.
“This weather system featured many of the key ingredients of a powerful Northwest storm, including high winds, heavy rain, heavy snow and rapid temperature fluctuations,” said Nic Loyd, AgWeatherNet meteorologist at Washington State University. “Parts of eastern Washington approached 70 degrees on March 20, while temperatures just a day or two later fell into the teens.”
A Web based, publicly available system, AgWeatherNet provides access to near real-time weather data and value-added products from WSU’s statewide weather network, along with decision aids for agricultural producers and other users.
Up to two inches of rain fell in western Washington during the storm, from late March 19 until the morning of March 21, while around two feet of snow fell in the Cascade high country. As the strong cold front crossed the state on March 20, winds gusted as high as 65 mph, with 15 minute sustained winds peaking at 47 mph at Huntsville.
At College Place (near Walla Walla), the temperature rose to 70 degrees by noon, and then fell 20 degrees in a half hour. Even after the main storm had departed, the lingering effects were felt for several days.
On March 22, a Puget Sound convergence zone produced several inches of snowfall around Everett in the lowlands of western Washington. Scattered showers and gusty winds continued that day, before calmer conditions allowed for a series of very cold nights.
Moxee experienced four consecutive mornings in the teens, March 22-25, while temperatures in the 20s were widespread across Washington. In fact, nearly all of AgWeatherNet’s 140 sites recorded low temperatures below freezing on March 23 and 24.
Overall, March was drier than normal and temperatures were above average during the day. Washington crops have generally been faring well, even with the recent large temperature swings.
“Despite the cold temperatures that followed the March 20 storm, accurate forecasts well in advance of this critical event allowed many growers to take appropriate action to protect their orchards,” said AgWeatherNet director Gerrit Hoogenboom. “Unfortunately, the long duration of the cold temperatures did cause isolated frost damage in cherries around Benton County.”