The Hagerstown Almanack Monthly Weather Column
March: Spring Break Arrives in March!
February 24, 2024 - February has been a month to breathe a sigh of relief following a snowy start to 2024 in western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands. Of course, the same can’t be said as you read this column on this cold, blustery Saturday, February 24 with snow showers west of Route 36. Mother Nature is putting on a show that will even fool Penn and Teller (magicians) to close this month and begin March!
A Pacific Ridge next week promises to bring us the most sustainable warm pattern we have seen all winter. The red carpet will be rolled out as temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s!
As we slide into March, the players on the field have two totally different attitudes. El Nino is still the dominant weather pattern worldwide. The analog years used to compose the March outlook are those that transitioned from a Super El Nino (which peaked earlier this winter) to a weak to moderate El Nino in the spring. The Super El Nino has weakened or “cooled” to a moderate El Nino as of this writing and will likely transition to a weak El Nino by late March.
The second player is an expected major Sudden Stratospheric Warming Event, which could be the final one of the season! As mentioned in previous columns, these events, when linked to the troposphere (where our weather occurs), dislodges a cold outbreak that circulates through the Northern Hemisphere. In this case, the polar vortex will break off and get displaced into northern Asia in the first half of March. It will likely circulate the cold weather back into western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands late March to early April. As long as the vortex is centered on the other side of the globe, we will not see a sustainable cold pattern.
What we do see is a month with occasional frontal systems that will allow the airmass to transition from above-average to slightly cooler than average. There will likely be more warm days than chilly, blustery days. The most sustainable warm pattern will occur through mid-March.
Oh, and the first day of spring around March 19, as Murphy’s Law suggests, will be cold and offers the best chance for snow accumulation. That being said, while Cumberland averages 6.8 inches of snow in March and Garrett County sees on average 20 inches of accumulation, the month will underdeliver for sure. We see no upside risk for near to above average snowfall.
Rainfall will likely come close to average. So, expect around 3 inches of rain for the month in Cumberland and 4.32 inches in Garrett County. The two time periods that stand out the most for rainfall is March 12-15 and March 21-24 (likely mixed with snow in one of those storms near the spring equinox).
The likely Pacific Ridge to Pacific Trough pattern through most of March will likely yield an early start to the severe weather season in the Plains this year. This warm pattern often produces a big clash in air masses, but in this year’s case, the cold air won’t be significant behind fronts. The big temperature changes along these fronts will be due to the abnormally warm air ahead of cold fronts.
We also expect the Washington, D.C., Cherry Blossoms to reach peak bloom ahead of schedule. The best color will be showcased along the Tidal Basin between March 15-23. Traditionally, peak bloom coincides with the Cherry Blossom Festival in early April. Temperature departure from average in February and March dictate when peak bloom is reached and a very warm February and March will bring the blooms out early again this year.
On that note, the sustainable warm pattern in early to mid-March will allow fruit trees to come out of dormancy east of the Mississippi River. This will be detrimental down the road as a hard frost later in March and April will cause damage and likely lower yields of fruit.
Will April flowers bring May flowers or does Mother Nature have big tricks up her sleeves in April? Chad will return later in March to diagnose the pattern for the second month of Meteorological Spring. Until then, be safe and enjoy the reprieve from the heating bill!
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 previously been meteorologist with WDVM (formerly known as NBC25) in Hagerstown and at WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Most recently, Merrill was named chief meteorologist at WOAY-TV in Oak Hill, West Virginia. After a rigourous evaluation, Merrill was awarded the National Weather Association (NWA) Seal of Approval. According to the association, only 1,045 meteorologists currently hold the NWA Seal of Approval. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-285-8476.