The Cumberland Times-News Monthly Column

March: Winter's Revenge 

February 25, 2023 - Mother Nature pushed the calendar ahead to early spring in Allegany and Garrett County and the Potomac Highlands. Everything from extended warmth to brush fires made February feel like the transition into summer. The big takeaway for March is not to get used to the warmth.

The pattern guide for March will be the implications of a Stratospheric Warming Event. The first event occurred on February 16. You may ask what the heck does that have to do with the weather! Simply put, a big surge of warm air and wind direction reversal has crushed the spinning low pressure over the North Pole in the layer of the atmosphere above where our weather occurs (Stratosphere). A second warming event is occurring late this week.

Traditionally, the weaker the polar vortex, the better chance for a snowy and cold weather pattern in western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands. A strong vortex on average keeps the cold weather bottled up in the North Pole. Not every warming event fosters a wintertime pattern, and the implications of a Stratospheric Warming Event are not immediate. However, teleconnection pattern and pressure distribution forecasts in the Arctic Circle are showing precursor signs that the series of Sudden Stratospheric Events will indeed impact our weather in March.

We expect March will begin with a quiet, dry and warm pattern (March will come in like a lamb) before a storm system brings a wintry mix of rain and snow. Western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands will be in a transient cold pattern until March 15. From March 15 to the end of the month, temperatures will be near to below average with transient warm blasts. The biggest snowfall of the season will occur on the day of the vernal equinox, March 20.

While the first two weeks will be difficult for ski resorts to maintain snowpack, the upcoming pattern after mid-March will allow some recovery from a horrendous winter. The consistent cold pattern will allow for ample snowmaking opportunities. Cumberland averages 6.8 inches of snow and Garrett County sees 14 inches of snow in March. There is a significant upside risk for more than average snowfall.

Before you get too excited about a repeat of the Superstorm of 1993, more often than not the local pattern favors a few light to moderate snow events rather than one significant blizzard or East Coast crippler following a Stratospheric Warming Event. That being said, an analog to the current Stratospheric Warming Event is one that occurred in mid-February 2018. One month and change later, Cumberland to Frostburg got 11 inches of snow just in time for the spring equinox.

None of western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands traditionally has its final hard spring freeze in March. If your flowers have started to bloom in February’s oven, by all means, you will have to cover them frequently from mid-March to the end of the month to prevent permanent cold weather damage. While temperatures will be below-average from March 15-31, it’s important to stress the cold will not rival the same air mass the region experienced leading up to Christmas Day.

Brush fire season in the region is traditionally late March into mid-April when afternoon humidity levels are the lowest of the season, spring blooms have yet arrived and windy, sunny days dry out the topsoil. February saw a preview to the brushfire season on those warm, dry days. The brushfire risk will be most prevalent on one or two occasions just before the pattern flips to colder weather around March 15.

Cumberland averages 3.42 inches of precipitation (rain, melted snow and ice) while Garrett County averages 3.98 inches. We expect precipitation to fall just short of average for March.

The big question is how long the cold, snowy pattern will continue. Will April bring a repeat of last year with a freak snow? Will temperatures go off to the races with no turning back until next winter? We’ll examine the upcoming April pattern and bring these answers to you later in March.


Chad Merrill is a Cumberland native and meteorologist who not only serves as the Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack weather prognosticator but is also senior meteorologist at Earth Networks in Germantown. Merrill has recently earned his National Weather Association (NWA) Seal of Approval. According to the association, only 1,045 meteorologists currently hold the NWA Seal of Approval. Merrill previously was a meteorologist with WDVM (formerly known as NBC25) in Hagerstown and WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania most recently, with WeatherWorks, Inc. (  Feel free to contact him at or 240-285-8476.