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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/10/2009

March Temperature Swings Gone Wild

By Jason Samenow

* Forecast: Cool Today, Gone Tomorrow | Moon's Effect on Hurricanes *

The scene by the Capitol just a week ago yesterday. By CWG photographer Kevin Ambrose

Between Tuesday and Saturday last week, the high temperature at Reagan National Airport (DCA) soared from 29 to 71. I went back into the record books (since they've been kept at the airport in 1942) to see if there had been other instances when the high temperature had risen that much in 5 days or less. The answer: no. That 42 degree rise was the biggest such 5-day rise in March in at least 65 years.

Several other years have experienced upward swings almost as impressive as shown in the table below...

March Upward Temperature Swings at DCA (in 5 days or less)

Year Starting High Ending High Swing
1960 40 (Mar 25) 80 (Mar 28) +40
1961 42 (Mar 1) 80 (Mar 5) +38
1967 37 (Mar 1) 77 (Mar 3) +40
1980 21 (Mar 1) 61 (Mar 5) +40
1986 33 (Mar 8) 74 (Mar 10) +41
2009 29 (Mar 3) 71 (Mar 7) +42

Interestingly, the temperature ascent in 1980 followed a 4" snowstorm - a turn of events not unlike this year.

What about big temperature drops in March? Keep reading...

March has not only witnessed steep temperature climbs but also some precipitous falls. Just three years ago, the high temperature collapsed 45 degrees at DCA in just four days from 81 to 36 (March 14 to 17). Some other steep drops are summarized in the table below.

March Downward Temperature Swings at DCA (in 5 days or less)

Year Starting High Ending High Swing
1944 80 (Mar 16) 40 (Mar 19) -40
1976 83 (Mar 5) 45 (Mar 9) -38
1986 74 (Mar 19) 36 (Mar 21) -38
1987 75 (Mar 7) 37 (Mar 10) -38
1989 81 (Mar 18) 45 (Mar 19) -36
1990 81 (Mar 16) 42 (Mar 20) -39
2007 81 (Mar 14) 36 (Mar 17) -45

The drop in 1989 was not only notable for its magnitude but also for its rate. The 36 degree change in high temperature occurred in just one day!

Looking back at the temperature swings of last week, what was maybe more remarkable than the increase in the high temperatures at DCA was the increase in low temperatures at Dulles Airport. On March 4, the mercury dipped to a frigid 8 degrees (just two degrees above a the record low) but then on March 8, the low was a tropical 57 (a record high low). Of course, if you take the difference between the low on 3/4 (8) and the high on 3/8 (77), the contrast is even more striking...

By Jason Samenow  | March 10, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Local Climate  
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Seems to me that a late February/early March snowstorm is usually followed by a sharp rise in temperatures. IIRC, the storms in 79 and 83 were followed within a week or two by temperatures in the upper 60s/low 70s.

I suspect that even without the storm we get the sharp rise, but the snow makes it more memorable.

Posted by: wiredog | March 10, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

This tends to be the case with many "bonus snows" outside of meteorological winter. The temperature went up near 70F a few days after the 1987 Veterans Day snowstorm. As for March weather, wide temperature swings and windy weather are commonplace. The saying "in like a lion, out like a lamb" alludes to the changeable weather as does the phrase "March madness", used long before the NCAA basketball tournament.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 10, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of large temperature changes, consider:

The largest recorded temperature drop over a 24 hour period in the U.S. was 71 degrees (from 78 to 7) in Lamberton MN on April 3, 1982.

Temperature fell from from the 60's to 20's in 4-6 hours over central and southeastern Illinois last year on January 30.

The most rapid drop in temperature recorded in one hour was 20 degrees (from 66 to 46) at Purcell, OK on the afternoon of January 6, 1980.

All of the above were assicated with the passage of sharp cold fronts.

Abrupt warming also occurs, usually in association with Chinook winds. Loma, Montana recorded a temperture rise of an unbelievble (but confirmed) 103 degrees (-54 to 49) over 24 hours between Jan 14-15 1972.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

By the way, the Capitol snow photo in this post will probably be March's photo for the 2010 Washington Weather calendar; unless, we get an even bigger snowstorm later this month. :)

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Interesting discussion. I am very surprised by the fact that the largest recorded one-hour temperature decline was "only" 20 degrees, per Steve T's comment above. I would think that a summertime thunderstorm could trigger something close to that value in an extremely short period of time.

Posted by: JamieYPotomac | March 10, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Between 7:30am and approx. 10am in Spearfish, SD on Jnauary 22, 1943 actually holds the world record for temperature change. At 730am the temp. read -4 degrees Farenheit. 2 minutes later the temperature reached +45 degrees thanks to a chinook wind. Later that morning, the temperature dropped again from a high of 56 degrees back to -4 in 27 minutes.

In one day, the greatest range of temperature on record for the U.S. is 65 degrees, at Deeth, NV. After a morning low of 12°, the mercury rose to 87° on September 21, 1954

Posted by: Brian-CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

For the record, I was citing only official verifiable records or from controlled observing system experiments - at least the ones I know about without further extensive searching.

JamieY - I'm sure I've personally experienced more than the 20 degree fall in one hour - unofficially. Many of those occurrences were due to onset of a springtime sea breeze in eastern MA where the water temps (and hence air surface temps) were in the 40's and inland air temperatures were in the 60's to 70's before sea breeze onset.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

1980 had a +41° change from the 2nd (25°) to the 7th (66°) and a +48° change to the 8th (73°).

Posted by: CapitalClimate | March 10, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

1945 had a -42° change:
19th 87°
22nd 45°

Posted by: CapitalClimate | March 10, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse


The changes you mention in 1980 occurred over six (and seven) days (our criteria was five or fewer). I missed the 1945 drop but good point.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

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