Spring Arrives Early
March 2012 Summary

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
April 2, 2012

Did New Jersey just experience a close-to-average April or its warmest March on record? The latter just happens to be the case, though it is also true that had the calendar this past month read "April", there would have been 50 Aprils (out of the past 118) that would have been cooler. This is one illustration of just how unusual March 2012 was across NJ and, for that matter, over most of the US and southern Canada east of the Rockies. It was a dry month too, continuing a dry episode that goes back to the first of the year. More on that later, but first an overview of temperatures.

The average temperature this past month of 49.5° was 8.4° above the 1981-2010 average. This year tied with 1945 as the mildest March on record (back to 1895; Table 1). This marks the 14th consecutive month with above-average temperatures. As a result, the twelve-month period ending in March ranks as the warmest twelve-month period on record in NJ (out of 1396 twelve-month intervals since 1895; Table 2) at 56.9°, far surpassing the next-warmest periods of this past March-February (56.2°) and October-September 2001/02 (56.0°).

In addition, for the third consecutive month, a new record for warmth over a 24-month interval ending with that month has been established across NJ. The past 24 months is the warmest such interval on record in NJ, surpassing the average for the 24 months ending in February 2012, which passed the same interval ending in January 2012. The first three months of 2012 in NJ averaged 41.2°, which is 5.8° above average and the warmest start of any year on record (Table 3).

Rank Year Mar. Avg. Temp.
1 2012 49.5°
1 1945 49.5°
3 1921 48.7°
4 1946 47.7°
5 1903 47.1°
6 2010 46.0°
7 2000 45.8°
8 1977 45.5°
9 1973 45.4°
10 1936 44.9°

Table 1. The ten warmest Marches across NJ since 1895.

Rank Period Year (of end month) 12-Month Avg. Temp.
1 Apr-Mar 2012 56.9°
2 Mar-Feb 2012 56.2°
3 Oct-Sep 2002 56.0°
4 Nov-Oct 2002 55.9°
5 Feb-Jan 2012 55.9°
6 Sep-Aug 2002 55.8°
7 Aug-Jul 2002 55.7°
8 Jan-Dec 1998 55.6°
9 Nov-Oct 2010 55.5°
10 May-Apr 2002 55.5°

Table 2. The ten warmest twelve-month periods across New Jersey since 1895. There have been 1396 such intervals over this time span. Averages have been rounded to the tenth of a degree for display purposes.

Rank Year Jan.-Mar. Avg. Temp.
1 2012 41.2°
2 1998 40.7°
3 1990 40.3°
4 2002 39.8°
5 1949 39.2°
6 1953 38.4°
7 2006 38.3°
8 1921 38.2°
9 1932 37.9°
10 1913 37.8°

Table 3. The ten warmest January-March intervals across New Jersey since 1895.

By end of the mid-March "warm wave" flowers, shrubs and trees were blossoming and beginning to leaf out 3-4 weeks ahead of average. This created a worrisome situation overnight from the 26th-27th when cold air invaded the area and dew points fell between -10° at High Point Monument (Sussex County) and 4° in Upper Deerfield (Cumberland). With such dry air and clear skies the only thing that kept the budding fruit trees and bushes from suffering virtually total loses was a strong wind that helped to mix the atmosphere and keep most orchards in the mid to upper 20°s.

Maximum temperatures reached 70° or higher at more than one of the 50 locations we monitor across the state on remarkable twelve March days. Three of those days had stations reach 80°. The 8th provided a preview of coming attractions when Hawthorne (Passaic) reached 73° and five other stations got to 72°. The 12th to 23rd was the heart of the warm wave. Hawthorne and Chatham (Morris) reached 75° on the 12th, with nineteen other stations between 70°-73°. As was commonly the case throughout the month, coastal locations stayed considerably cooler as, despite ocean temperatures being well above average, they still helped chill the nearby air. For instance, on the 12th, Harvey Cedars (Ocean), West Cape May (Cape May), and the Atlantic City Marina (Atlantic) only reached 56°. Sicklerville (Camden) topped out at 78° on the 13th, with twelve stations at 76° and 33 between 70°-75°. Harvey Cedars only got to 56°. Sicklerville and Mansfield (Burlington) took top honors on the 14th at 76°, with only High Point Monument (59°) staying below 60°.

A week's worth of plus 70° highs occurred from the 17th-23rd. Clayton (Gloucester) reached 72° on the 17th, though Cape May Courthouse only got to 45°. Sicklerville was 73° on the 18th. The first 80° maximums of the year were achieved at Chatham and Hawthorne on the 19th, with 79° at four stations and 78° at ten others. Harvey Cedars had the lowest maximum of 60°, while the thermometer in Jersey City felt the effects of a cool New York Harbor and only reached 69°. Four stations got to 77° on the 20th, and Sicklerville and Piney Hollow (Gloucester) made it to 74° on the 21st. Chatham again made it to 80° on the 22nd, with 79° seen at four stations. The 23rd was the warmest day of March with 82° at Bethel Mill Park (Gloucester), 81° at six stations, and 80° at five others. Even shore locations were rather mild with Seaside Heights (Ocean) the lowest at 66°. Mild temperatures returned on the 28th with six stations getting to 70° while the coolest, Bivalve (Cumberland) on the shore of Delaware Bay, was only 9 degrees cooler at 61°.

Not surprisingly, cold temperatures were not too prevalent in March, particularly after the 11th. Only eight days saw the low temperature fall to 25° or cooler at one or more locations. In fact, High Point Monument, the coldest location in the state, only saw the temperature fall to freezing on fourteen days. Meanwhile, Atlantic City Marina and West Cape May only dropped to the freezing mark on three mornings and Harvey Cedars on four. High Point Monument and the nearby High Point Mesonet station dropped to 24° and 25°, respectively, on the 4th. These two stations were 17° and 18° on the 5th. The 6th was the coldest morning of the month across NJ. High Point Monument and Pequest (Warren) fell to 15° and nine stations had lows of 16°-19°. West Cape May and Atlantic City Marina were mildest at 28°. The 7th saw the temperature drop to 24° at Pequest, Kingwood (Hunterdon), and Hope (Warren). High Point Monument fell to 25° on the 9th and 18° on the 10th. Berkeley Township (Ocean) at 17° and Pequest at 19° were coldest on the 11th. Late in the month, High Point Monument dropped to 19° and High Point to 20°. On the warm side of the low temperature ledger, the 21st saw the coolest temperature of 47° at Berkeley Township and Pequest, while four stations never got below 58°. The 22nd saw a low of 49° at five stations with three as mild as 58°.

Precipitation remained rather sparse in March, as it has been since January. The March 2012 average of 1.98" was 2.25" below normal and ranked as the 10th driest since 1895 (Table 4). This total and those for March discussed below include precipitation that fell after morning observations were taken on February 29. Such is the manner in which National Weather Service and CoCoRaHS observations are made. Suffice it to say that the February 29 morning to March 1 morning observations taken on March 1 were not included in February evaluations. Nor were the very light totals that followed morning observations on March 31 (the bulk of the March 31 rain fell in the pre-dawn hours, thus is included in the March totals).

From January through March, 6.15" of rain and melted snow fell across NJ. This is 4.42" below the 1981-2010 mean of 10.57" and ranks as the 3rd driest first quarter of the year on record (Table 5). February-March precipitation totaled 3.32" and also ranks as the third driest such interval (driest was 2.72" in 2006). This has resulted in below-average ground water levels and stream flow, however due to the record wet conditions in the last half of 2011, reservoir levels are running at or slightly above average. Dry surfaces along with warm days with low humidity resulted in brush fires across the state during the month, however all were quickly controlled.

Rank Year Mar. Prcp
1 2006 0.81"
2 1915 1.16"
3 1910 1.25"
4 1927 1.50"
4 1981 1.50"
6 1966 1.70"
7 1985 1.83"
8 1995 1.87"
9 1986 1.96"
10 2012 1.98"
11 1976 2.06"
12 2009 2.07"
13 1938 2.09"
14 1918 2.10"
15 1964 2.11"

Table 4. The fifteen driest Marches across New Jersey since 1895.

Rank Year Jan.-Mar. Prcp
1 2009 5.68"
2 1985 5.73"
3 2012 6.15"
4 1981 6.38"
5 1927 6.72"
6 2002 7.27"
7 1946 7.32"
8 1992 7.38"
9 1995 7.42"
10 1954 7.63"

Table 5. The ten driest January-March intervals across New Jersey since 1895.

Southern areas were wettest in March, with Linwood (Atlantic) totaling 3.10", Estell Manor (Atlantic) 3.09", and Upper Township (Cape May) 3.00". In the north, only 1.18" fell in Glen Rock (Bergen), 1.21" in Jefferson Township (Morris), and 1.23" at Wantage (Sussex).

The event on February 29th into March 1st brought 1.90" of rain to Woodbine (Cape May), and 1.79" and 1.65", respectively, to the Cape May townships of Dennis and Upper. Rainfall was less farther north, with less than a half inch in the northern half of the state. The only accumulating snow of the month fell in the north, with Wantage receiving 2.3", Layton (Sussex) 1.5", and 1.2" in Montague (Sussex) and West Milford (Passaic). From the evening of the 2nd into the 3rd southern counties were again wettest. 1.59" fell in Estell Manor (Atlantic), 1.54" in Hamilton Township (Atlantic), and 1.41" in Bridgeton (Cumberland). Most of the remainder of the state had about a third of an inch.

Rain returned on the 9th with 0.50" in Newton (Sussex), 0.26" in Hardyston (Sussex), and less than 0.10" in the southern half of NJ. The morning of the 13th saw 0.33" in Little Egg Harbor (Ocean), and 0.29" in both Stafford Township (Ocean) and Berkeley Township (Ocean). Most other areas had under 0.10". Counties adjacent to Delaware Bay and the Atlantic received several tenths of an inch of rain late on the 24th. Upper Township had 0.46" and 0.45" fell in Jackson Township (Ocean) and Belmar (Monmouth). Most other areas saw under 0.10". Rain late on the 30th into the 31st brought 0.77" to Peapack-Gladstone (Somerset), and 0.75" to Old Bridge (Middlesex) and Morris Township (Morris). Most of central NJ saw 0.50"-0.75" with other areas, except a drier south, catching 0.25"-0.50".

Fog, sometimes with drizzle, was observed on a number of mornings during the mid-month warm spell, causing some but not many travel disruptions. Days with fog included the 17th and the 19th-23rd. Flurries were seen in north Jersey on the 4th, 5th, and 9th with no measurable accumulations. Sleet was observed briefly in central NJ late evening of the 30th. Pea-size hail was observed in a Somerville (Somerset) thunderstorm on the 24th, with thunderstorms also noted across south Jersey on the 3rd.

March 2012 was not a particularly windy one, however winds gusted to 40 mph or higher at one or more locations on nine days. Gusts reached 47 mph at High Point Monument and 40 mph at Wantage in Sussex County on the 3rd. Atlantic City Marina (Atlantic) reached 42 mph on the 7th. The Marina and High Point Monument gusted to 49 mph on the 8th, with five other stations peaking between 40 mph and 47 mph. The Marina reached 50 mph and the Monument 49 mph on the 9th, with the latter location up to 41 mph on the 10th. The windiest day of the month was the 26th, with High Point Monument reaching 56 mph, Wantage 52 mph, and six stations between 40 mph and 46 mph. Seaside Heights saw a gust to 46 mph on the 27th, the Marina 40 mph on the 28th, and the 29th brought a 51 mph gust to the Monument and 42 mph to Wantage.

The lowest monthly barometric pressure was achieved on the 3rd when readings were in the mid 29.40"s. Three days later on the 6th the month's maximum pressure in the mid 30.60"s was reached.

For those seeking more detailed information on hourly, daily and monthly conditions, please visit the following Office of the NJ State Climatologist's websites:

NJ Weather and Climate Network
NJ Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network
NJ Snow Event Reports

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