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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/10/2010

March: A fickle month by any standard

By Don Lipman

* Cloudy, mild: Full Forecast | Calming the climate science crisis *

Growing up in New Jersey, I had always heard the adage, "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb, and vice versa." But in recent years, the various media seem to have modified the saying to read, "If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb" with no vice versa. (This may be a regional thing however, because my wife, a native Washingtonian, doesn't remember the "vice versa" at all.) Anyway, is that the effect that global warming is having on us, that March always goes out like a lamb these days?

Past Marches in the local area have proven that we need to be prepared for just about any kind of weather, like 19 inches of snow (1914), temperatures as high as 93 degrees (1907), and temperatures as low as 4 degrees (1873). And the heaviest March snowstorms totaled about a foot on both March 27-28, 1891, and March 29, 1942, both very late dates for the Washington area. (The so-called "Super Storm" of mid-March 1993 -- despite the 8-16" snow that blanketed much of the region -- went down in the record books as only a 6.5" snowstorm, at least for the official measuring station at Reagan National Airport.) That storm came on the anniversary of the fabled "Blizzard of 1888," which buried the Northeast, but particularly eastern N.Y. State, including New York City, and southern New England.

Keep reading for more on the weather of March locally...

Further evidence of just how erratic March weather can be is seen from the following:

  • March 28-29th, 1921 saw the greatest 24-hour temperature plunge of any month (56 degrees) when the mercury plummeted from 82 to 26 degrees.
  • Although average March snowfall is only 1.6 inches at DCA, March 1958 saw several storms totaling about 11 inches (combined).
  • A couple of years later, in 1960, not only was March the snowiest month (17 inches) of the entire winter, it was also the coldest--only the second time that's happened (at least since the start of official record keeping about 140 years ago).

In 1962, March will long be remembered for the ferocious and long-lived nor'easter that battered the East Coast from March 5th to the 8th. Dubbed the Ash Wednesday Storm, it dropped from 3 inches to more than a foot of snow here (and up to three feet in the mountains) and is most remembered for the widespread devastation and beach erosion it caused along the entire northeast shoreline, included the Delmarva.

Following the storm, experts commented that it was particularly destructive along the coastline because of a rare set of circumstances: (1) it lingered through five high tides; (2) it came during the exact time of a spring tide, which is when the sun, moon, and earth are in alignment (this has nothing to do with the spring season); and (3) the spring tide was a perigean spring tide, when the moon is closest to the earth. The three factors together caused historic high tides, probably higher than many hurricanes.

By the way, as you may know, although astronomical spring doesn't officially arrive until either the 20th or the 21st (the 20th this year), for record-keeping purposes spring began meteorologically on March 1st. Among other reasons, this enables the weather people to keep track of each season in even three-month increments. (The summer months are June, July, and August, etc.)

And what does the rest of March 2010 have in store, weatherwise? I'll leave that question for our forecasters. One thing is certain, however: spring will arrive (astronomically) at 1:32 P.M. EDT on March 20th.

By Don Lipman  | March 10, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Local Climate  
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You just proved the point that Global Warming is a HOAX! Thanks.

Posted by: Jimbo77 | March 10, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse


I heard on the radio (Elliot in the Morning) that there was a potential storm for later in the month that could bring a lot of snow to the area. I know it is far away, but do you guys have any insight on this?

Love the site

Posted by: aaf314 | March 10, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse


We don't see significant potential for snow in the long range at this point, but large weather swings can occur quickly in March, so anything is possible.

Posted by: CapitalWeatherGang | March 10, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I believe the "lion/lamb" analogy relates to the fact that, during March, mild sunny days can alternate with cold, nasty and even stormy weather. March can indeed begin and end like a "lion", but with several "lamb-like" days in between the 1st and the 31st. The reverse is true.

Jimbo77, your "hoax" post is in some sense quite premature. We can't say for sure whether we're warming or whether this is part of a climatic cycle. However the recent data on receding montane glaciers and melting polar icecaps may tend to support a global warming hypothesis. One disquieting statistic is that methane content in the atmosphere is apparently increasing; methane is about 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide! As I've stated here before, global "warming" of the atmosphere could actually precipitate an "ice age" through feedback effects from increased atmospheric moisture at high latitudes.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | March 10, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Ash Wednesday did a lot for coastal communities from Delmarva all the way to Hatteras in prompting building codes that require that homes built close to the ocean be constructed on pilings. Even today at Sandbridge (in Va Beach), you can see pre-Ash Wednesday and post-Ash Wednesday homes, with the "pre" homes being right on the ground.

Posted by: ennepe68 | March 10, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

We(in Michigan) always said the vice versa part too.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 10, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

In NW D.C. at least, the so-called Storm of the Century started with a bang, turned into a sleety whimper, then ended with blowing snow. I went to Rockland's in Glover Park that night. Some Chicago guys were working the shift and as the snow swirled outside, one of them jubilantly pumped his fist and yelled "Bears' weather!"

It's "Bears' Weather" that generates excitement and comments here, not the baby-blue-eyes skies sunny weather we've had the last few days. And the comments don't drop off because people are outside enjoying the weather. It's because, weather-wise the last few days have been a California kind of yawner.

As for this weekend, let's hope it's not "apres moi, le deluge", esp. for the folks upstream in the Potomac River valley and its tributaries. C.f. the March 1936 flood and the 1996 flooding.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | March 10, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Don. This was an interesting post...

I caught the Elliot in the Morning segment as well. Apparently there is a phony email going around saying there will be a snowstorm on the 20th equal to the last two combined.

Posted by: spgass1 | March 10, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

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