Meteorological March Madness 2012

Draft - Last Update: 11 December 2012

Disclaimer: This draft is an evolving research assessment and not a final report. The analyses presented have not yet been peer reviewed and do not represent official positions of ESRL, NOAA, or DOC. A more technical and detailed analysis of the heat wave has been submitted to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society for peer review. Comments are welcome. For more information, contact Dr. Martin Hoerling (


Nature's exuberant smashing of daily high temperature records in recent weeks can only be described as "Meteorological March Madness". Conditions more fitting of June than March prevailed east of the Rocky Mountains since the start of the month. The numbers are stunning. Take, for example, the nine consecutive record high temperatures in Chicago from 14-22 March, eight of which saw the mercury eclipse 80F. For those unfamiliar with the area's climatology, high temperatures do not normally begin exceeding 80F until after commencement of the Summer solstice. NOAA's National Climate Data Center reported that over 7000 daily record high temperatures were broken over the U.S. from 1 March thru 27 March. With beachgoers flocking to the balmy shores of Hampton Beach, New Hamsphire this week, one wonders if a new normal is emerging for the preferred destination of Spring-break revelers.

This preliminary analysis, part of an ongoing assessment and interpretation of evolving climate conditions at the Physical Science Division of NOAA/ESRL attempts to make some scientific sense of this apparent madness. A set of questions are being posed, and some diagnostics are presented that offer preliminary answers:

  1. What were the meteorological conditions associated with the heat wave?
  2. What physical processes contributed to the heat wave's magnitude?
  3. Was this event anticipated?

The following analysis is written with an assumption that the reader has a basic understanding of meteorology, climate science and elementary statistics.