Dry Conditions Persist: March 2009 Overview

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
April 9, 2009

March continued a string of relatively dry months that have kicked off 2009 in New Jersey. Precipitation across the state averaged 2.18". This places March 1.99" below the 1971-2000 mean and makes it the 14th driest since 1895. 2006, with 0.81", remains the driest. The shore counties came closest to normal, thanks in large part to the snowstorm on the 2nd. Colts Neck (Monmouth County) took top monthly honors with 3.34", followed closely by 3.30" and 3.27" in the Atlantic County communities of Hamilton Township and Hammonton, respectively. Boonton (Morris) at 1.41" and Blairstown (Warren) with 1.40" received the least amount of March precipitation.

Only 5.96" of rain and melted snow accumulated across NJ from January through March. This is the second driest start to the year on record, and is just 54% of the normal total (see table). Had not the 5th wettest December preceded this three-month interval, water concerns would be greater. Presently, reservoir levels are about average for the date, while stream flow and ground water levels are below seasonal norms. Late March rains helped to ameliorate brush and forest fire concerns, but not before there were a number of small ones (some the result of suspected arson) around New Jersey in the third and fourth weeks.

Rank Year Jan-March Precip
1 1985 5.73"
2 2009 5.96"
3 1981 6.38"
4 1927 6.72"
5 2002 7.27"
6 1946 7.32"
7 1992 7.38"
8 1995 7.42"
9 1954 7.63"
10 1969 7.75"

Thermally, March was closer to the long-term mean than any month since last fall. The 40.8° statewide value was 0.2° below average, making this the 50th warmest of the past 115 Marches.

March came roaring in with the largest snowstorm of the season for most of the southern half of the state. Several inches of snow fell along portions of the coast early on the 1st. This was a minor precursor of the storm to come later that evening and through the first half of the 2nd. This major event brought wind-driven snow to the entire state, concentrating its greatest fury along coastal counties and scattered inland sectors. Totals approached or slightly exceeded a foot in portions of Atlantic, Ocean, and Monmouth counties. Top snow honors went to Wall Township in Monmouth County where observers measured totals of 15.0" and 13.6". A few locations in Burlington, Cape May, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic and Morris counties had as much as 10". Lesser totals were reported within these and other counties, though all areas had at least 4-6". The relatively wide range in totals is mainly due to the patchy or banded nature of the storm's precipitation pattern across the state. However, due to the difficulties of obtaining a representative depth when winds are strong, there likely were smaller and larger totals reported than would have been observed under calm conditions. Both explanations speak to the importance of gathering measurements from as many observing locations as possible!

Given some forecast warning and with the snow beginning overnight, the impacts of the storm were not exceedingly great. Travel and commerce were disrupted on Monday the 2nd, and most schools in the state were closed. Traffic accidents and some power outages were to be found, but the state recovered rather quickly. The liquid content of the snowfall ranged from about 0.50" in the low-snow areas to almost 2.00" in portions of Atlantic County.

Unseasonably cold weather persisted for several days following the storm. The windy morning of the 3rd found lows ranging from 1° at High Point (Sussex County) to 15° in West Cape May (Cape May). The morning of the 4th dawned calm and clear. Combined with the deep snow on the ground, some south Jersey locations experienced their coldest temperatures of the winter. Millville (Cumberland) bottomed out at an impressive -7°, while Berkeley (Ocean; -4°), Piney Hollow (Gloucester; -2°) and Woodbine (Cape May; -1°) all fell below zero. Even the 5th saw Berkeley drop to 0°.

The cold was rapidly replaced by exceptionally mild early March conditions. By the 7th Woodbine warmed to 74°, as all of the state saw temperatures in the 60s and 70s (even High Point reached 61°). The last vestiges of the early-week snow virtually melted before your eyes! The following day the extreme warmth was limited to the southern third of NJ, with Woodbine topping out at 79°. This location experienced an 81° swing in 4 days. Dennis Township and Cape May Courthouse, each in Cape May County, reached 77° on the 8th.

After such a tumultuous first week, temperatures were quite seasonal the remainder of the month. Only on the 29th, when the southern half of NJ saw a high of 76° at Hammonton (Atlantic) and 75° at three other stations, were conditions markedly different than normal. Meanwhile, several precipitation events were noted. A few tenths of an inch of rain fell in north Jersey on the 8th-9th, with a maximum of 0.62" in Morris Township (Morris). Cape May County received a few tenths on the 15th. Totals of 0.10" to 0.30" were common from midday on the 19th through the morning of the 20th. The latter day dawned with a burst of snow in central and northeastern areas that ranged from a few tenths of an inch in a number of communities to 2.0" in South Brunswick (Middlesex). A statewide 0.25"-0.50" on the 26th marked the onset of a damp period that extended into early April. This continued on the 28th-29th, when the first widespread thunderstorms of 2009 crossed the state. Rainfall totaled 0.50-1.00", being heaviest in the south. Hail was reported at more than a dozen locations, and was as large as 0.75" in diameter at Merchantville (Camden) and 0.5" in Mt. Laurel (Burlington) and Roxbury (Morris). Several hours after this early evening event another episode of 0.25" hail occurred in Roxbury.

Wind was not as major a factor during March as it was in February. There were five days where gusts exceeded 40 mph at one or more station. The 2nd proved the windiest, with a 51 mph gust at Woodstown (Salem) and 49 mph gusts at Mullica (Atlantic) and Harvey Cedars (Ocean) moving around an awful lot of snow. The 11th, 12th and 23rd saw gusts from 42-44 mph at High Point and Wantage in Sussex County. Gusts reached 47 mph at the previous two stations on the 30th, as well as 45 mph in Hillsborough (Somerset) and 43 mph at four coastal stations.

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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