This historic heat wave in March will start wrapping up

Our historic and incredible March heat wave peaked this weekend in Western Wisconsin. This whole summer in winter business will be coming to an end though. As we approach the first official day of spring temperatures will start coming down and by Wednesday, the record in place for that day won’t have to worry. Monday and Tuesday’s record…be afraid. Be very afraid.

First, let’s take a look back at how this heat wave began. It all got going last weekend when we got our first two record highs and first surge of warm air.

Records Broken in Eau Claire:

March 10: 64 (61 in 1977)
March 11: 66 (60 in 2006)
March 13: 64 (64 in 1973)
March 14: 76 (66 in 2010)
March 16: 80 (73 in 1930)
March 17: 82 (75 in 1894)
March 18: 80 (71 in 1910)

Above are the new record highs for the dates listed and the old record high. You’ll notice March 17th was on the list. This was the warmest St. Patrick’s Day ever in Eau Claire, and it smashed a very old record way back in 1894. What’s also incredible is a lot of these new records absolutely took down the old records without even flinching. Only two of the new records this past week did not beat their previous records by at least five degrees.

When Eau Claire reached 80 degrees for the first time on the 16th that ended up being the earliest 80 degree temperature on record. The old record for the first 80+ degree temperature of the year was March 23rd in 1910. We beat it by a full week! We’ve also been very mild weather overnight. Dew points have been as high as well with a 61 degree dew point on Friday. It’s definitely felt like summer and not like the final days of winter. We have broken or tied 5 record warm low temperatures this past week including today. When we record a maximum low of 61 degrees on March 17th, it ended up being the highest low temperature ever on record in the month of March. We will likely break the record again Monday and Tuesday. Like I mentioned above we are going to be cooling down but not before breaking a couple more records this week. Monday and Tuesday will be the ones at risk.

For Eau Claire…

March 19th: High Temperature Record: 74 in 1910
March 20th: High Temperature Record: 67 in 1938

Given how warm it has been this March and how mild it will remain even despite the cool down this week, this March will likely be the warmest March ever as far as record keeping goes back in Eau Claire, which is since 1890. One record we have not broken in this heat wave is the record for warmest March temperature, and it looks like we won’t either. The record is 84 degrees back in on March 29th, 1986.

A heat wave of this capacity…so early in the year, breaking so many records over such a large area, and totally smashing records is pretty unprecedented in history. So what’s behind this record breaking warm weather over such a long period of time? Well first of all the snowpack coming into this big warm up was very small across the country. So when the warm air started to lift north there was nothing on the ground to keep things cool. The existing snow was no match. Today, only 11% of the lower 48 has a snowpack which is mainly is found on the Rocky Mountains or up in Maine.

Above is a look at the jet stream denoted by the bold line from earlier today. Notice how amplified the pattern is. There is a huge ridge of high pressure in the central U.S. and large trough out west. This pattern has made it possible to pull up incredibly warm air for this time of the year, and because the trough has had such trouble moving west we’ve been able to break record after record for days upon days staying under the ridge. It’s fascinating stuff!

This heat wave has impacted much of the country with thousands of records falling throughout the United States. Yesterday, the “Ice box of the Nation”, International Falls, MN topped out at 77 degrees. That record was obliterated by 42 degree. That was the warmest temperature on record for the month of March…until today. Today International Falls hit 79 degrees. This is just one of the incredible stories from across the country as far as the record breaking is concerned. Records are being smashed, and they keep piling up. Check out the weather map below. The colored contours show temperature in Celsius up in the atmosphere around 5000 feet. Notice the big bubble of red highlighted in South Dakota and surrounding states. That translated into incredible temperatures for this time of the year. Much of South Dakota was in the mid to upper 80s with even a few spots cracking 90 degrees. That’s all shown a bit farther below on the surface map. The temperatures are the red letters.

The warm weather is leading to some blooming and greening around town. In Washington D.C., the cherry blossoms are already starting to bloom. Normally, they don’t do so until early April. Only after a couple weeks since our big snow storm in the area, this past Friday we got our first thunderstorms of the year. One was able to become severe for a short time dumping some hail of around an inch in diameter. Our photographer Duane Wolter took this cool photo of the storm. These were airmass thunderstorms. They were sparked mainly due to the surge in moisture and daytime heating from Friday, and they tend to be unorganized. However, there was enough instability to get the storms going and enough dynamics to keep them going for at least a couple hours. As that trough of low pressure finally starts marching east we could see some more thunderstorms Monday and Tuesday. The severe threat should stay to the south. This is some much needed rain that we’ll have all throughout the upcoming week, which will help cool things off too.

So hopefully you enjoyed this taste of summer. It’s going to be one to remember for some time. Never before has such an extended period of extreme and record-breaking heat impacted such a large area of the United States this time of year. March Madness, right?

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