March 2023 Climate Summary
Thunderstorm over Lincoln, Nebraska, Photo Courtesy of Gannon Rush
While snow continued to impact the northern states in March, precipitation was notably absent for much of the High Plains. Cooler temperatures helped with drought conditions; however, many places desperately need moisture this spring.
As the significant drought affecting Kansas enters the second year, a number of impacts are becoming apparent. Winter wheat is in incredibly poor shape, with some places not having meaningful precipitation in nearly 200 days. Fields are already being evaluated by insurance adjusters and being adjusted out, despite no wheat emerging. Farmers will be forced to find ways to hold soil in place in the coming months, as blowing dust has been an issue over the past year. The groundwater has been depleted, with water levels dropping nearly three feet near Garden City. A very unusual impact comes from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Game Wardens within the state are seeing increased numbers of coyotes in towns this year due to the extreme drought conditions. The dry conditions have caused them to become desperate for sources of food and water.
After a quiet winter for wildfires, conditions rapidly became conducive for fires late in the month. Two separate fires broke out in Colorado on the 30th, with the town of Simla being evacuated after the flames poised a threat to the public.
Precipitation and Water Resources
Precipitation was once again spotty this month. Several winter storms impacted the Dakotas, however, much of Kansas and Nebraska were bone dry.
Southwestern Kansas has been on the short end of the stick when it comes to precipitation for the past year, and March was no exception. Many places received less than 0.10 inches (2.54 mm) of precipitation, including Hays, Garden City, and Great Bend. Since the start of 2023, numerous locations have received less than 0.50 inches (12.7 mm) of precipitation. After record to near-record dryness last year, the situation continues to become dire and dire each month.
The onslaught of snowstorms in the Dakotas carried over into March. Blizzards continued to ravage both states, with record to near-record snowfall this month. Sisseton, South Dakota measured 31.3 inches (79.5 cm) of snow which set the record for March. This large amount of snow also propelled them to observe their snowiest January to March, with 48.5 inches (123.2 cm) of snow. Pierre ranked second after 19.1 inches (48.5 cm) of snow, but well short of the record at 31.8 inches (80.8 cm) set in 1975. Ranking third snowiest includes Aberdeen and Fargo, North Dakota.
As winter has ended and spring begins, snowpack is in great shape. At the end of March, the majority of the Dakotas and Wyoming have snow on the ground. Mountain snowpack is above normal for most basins, which should greatly benefit the water supply. Streamflow is well below normal across southern Nebraska and most of Kansas at the beginning of April.
March was chilly, particularly in parts of the Dakotas, Colorado, and Wyoming. Departures were up to 20 degrees F (11.1 degrees C) below normal in those states, with many locations ranking in the top 10 coldest. Temperatures were slightly below-normal for the rest of the region.
North Dakota was brutally cold, with the highest average temperature in the state being 20.6 degrees F (-6.3 degrees C) in the southwestern part of the state. The town of Mayville was the coldest place in the state, with an average temperature of 9.3 degrees F (-12.6 degrees C), which was also the coldest March on record for that station. Nearby Grand Forks observed their 3rd coldest March, with an average temperature of 12.6 degrees F (-10.8 degrees C). Other notable locations such as Bismarck, Dickinson, and Williston also ranked in the top 10.
Portions of Wyoming have been exceptionally cold in 2023. Casper and Rawlins recorded their 4th coldest January to March, while Lander was the coldest on record. The average temperature in the past three months was a meager 16.4 degrees F (-8.7 degrees C).
Drought conditions improved this month, primarily in North Dakota. Conditions did degrade in the southern portions of the region after minimal precipitation occurred. Overall, there was a 3 percent decrease in D0 to D4 (abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions).
After a bitterly cold and wet month, North Dakota experienced a 30 percent reduction in D1- D4 (moderate to exceptional). Despite the reduction in drought conditions, there was a minimal reduction in abnormally dry conditions with 95 percent of the state still observing D0-D4. While drought still remains entrenched in Nebraska, D3 to D4 (extreme to exceptional) was reduced by eight percent. Elsewhere in the region, other improvements and degradation were observed. According to the Climate Prediction Center’s U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for March, drought conditions will improve in Wyoming, South Dakota, and parts of Nebraska and North Dakota.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, La Niña conditions have ended and transitioned to ENSO-neutral. The final La Niña advisory was
issued on March 9th. For more information, visit https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf
The National Weather Service’s long-range flood outlook indicates high chances of Major Flooding in central South Dakota and western North Dakota. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), fire potential will be limited across the region through July.
The seasonal temperature and precipitation outlook presented below combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). To learn more about these outlooks, please visit http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov.
The three-month temperature outlook shows an increased chance of above-normal temperatures across the southern and eastern United States. Increased chances of below-normal temperatures are present in North Dakota and northern South Dakota, while above-normal temperatures are favored in Kansas and southeastern Colorado.
The outlook for the next three months indicates below-normal precipitation across the southwestern and northwestern United States, while above-normal precipitation is favored for the Midwest. Southern Colorado and southwestern Kansas slightly lean towards below-normal precipitation, while the rest of the region has equal chances.
The U.S Seasonal Drought Outlook released on March 31st indicates that improvements to drought conditions will continue across the majority of the region.
Station Summaries: By the Number
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