Jeff Masters writes at his "wunderblog," the Weather Underground:
The ongoing March heat wave in the Midwest is one of the most extreme heat events in U.S. history. With so many records being shattered, it is difficult to cover in detail just how widespread, long-lasting, and extreme the event is, and I offer just a few highlights:
Winner, South Dakota hit 94°F yesterday, the earliest 90°+ reading ever recorded in the Northern Plains, according to wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt. The 94°F reading was just 2°F short of the all-time state record for South Dakota in March, which was 96°F in Tyndall in 1943.
International Falls, Minnesota hit 79°F yesterday, the hottest March temperature on record in the Nation's Icebox. At midnight this morning, the temperature was 66°F there, breaking the record high for March 19 (set in 1910) by 6°F. The low temperature for International Falls bottomed out near 60°F this morning, so low for today is (unofficially) the same as the previous record high for the date. This is the seventh consecutive day that International Falls has broken or tied a daily record. That is spectacularly hard to do for a station with a century-long weather record. The longest string of consecutive records being broken I'm aware of is nine days in a row, set June 2 - 10, 1911 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with weather records going back to 1905.) International Falls has a good chance of surpassing nine consecutive records this week.
International Falls is routinely the coldest place in the nation. Of course, James Hansen is first out of the box with the notion that the cause is global warming. Masters reports that fact (his blog is usually pro-man made warming but otherwise reliably objective) but goes on to offer a scientific explanation for the "extreme weather event" of so much warmth covering the eastern two thirds of the country in March:
1) La Niña. The on-going La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific has weakened considerably over the past month, but ocean temperatures there are still cool enough to affect the jet stream pattern, favoring high pressure and warm temperatures over the Eastern U.S., and low pressure and cold temperatures over the Western U.S.
2) The Madden-Julian Oscillation( MJO). The MJO is a 2-month cycle of thunderstorm activity that travels west to east along the Equator. The MJO is currently in phase with La Niña, and is helping create warmer temperatures over the Eastern U.S.
3) The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO.) The NAO is in its positive phase, which means the difference in pressure between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High is stronger than usual. This tends to increase the jet stream winds and keeps the jet from sagging southwards over the Eastern U.S.
While the blocking pattern responsible for the heat wave is natural, it is very unlikely that the intensity of the heat would have been so great unless we were in a warming climate. Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has posted an interesting (as yet unpublished) paper discussing how the odds of such extreme heat events have shifted in recent years.
Yesterday, we had a hum dinger of a T-storm and more rain is expected today. With temps in the 80's, the trees have begun to bud, flowers bloom, and a definite springtime feel is in the air. It is the earliest this has happened in my memory and may be the earliest in recorded history.
My experience has been that we are not quite done with winter yet. April and even early May snowstorms are not uncommon in the Midwest so the early blooming is in danger of getting killed off by a switch back to more normal weather for this time of year.
But we are enjoying it while it is here.