New York, Chicago Post Warmest March as Record Month Ends

New York’s airports and Chicago had their all-time warmest March while Central Park had its second-hottest as thousands of weather records were set or tied across the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

The average temperature for the month at John F. Kennedy International Airport was 48.5 degrees Fahrenheit (9.2 Celsius) topping the previous record of 47.7 set in 1973, the weather service said. At LaGuardia Airport, the new record is 50.8, exceeding 49.8 in 1945.

The average in Chicago was 53.5 degrees. That topped the previous mark of 48.6 degrees set in 1910 and matched in 1945, the weather service said, citing data compiled since 1873.

“To put it in perspective, if it was April, it would still be in the top 10, as far as warmest. It is mind-boggling,” said Tom Kines, a meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “There are many areas across the Upper Midwest that have had their warmest March ever. That seems to be where the core of the warmth was.”

In New York’s Central Park, the average temperature was 50.9 degrees, 8.9 degrees above normal although below the record 51.1 degrees in 1945, according to the weather service.

Across the U.S., 7,700 daily high temperatures records were set or matched in March, according to the National Climate Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The warm weather contributed to a decline in natural gas prices, as less of the energy was needed to heat homes and business.

Natural Gas

On March 30, natural gas for May delivery declined 2.3 cents to $2.126 million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement price since Feb. 6, 2002. The futures fell 29 percent for the quarter and 19 percent in March.

U.S. stockpiles were 59 percent above the five-year average in the week ended March 23, the Energy Department said. Production rose in January, led by gains in the Marcellus shale formation in the Northeast, a separate report showed. Demand for the heating fuel was crimped during the quarter by the mildest winter since 2000.

Saturday’s high temperature in Omaha, Nebraska, was 91 degrees, a daily record that eclipsed the mark of 88 set in 1946. It also tied the all-time high for the month, recorded March 25, 1907, according to the weather service.

The warmer weather poses a risk for farmers, according to a statement by the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

“Despite the early warmth, climatology tells us that the possibility for a freeze in April remains high, putting early emerging crops and plants at risk,” according to the center.

Freeze Concerns

Apple and peach trees have been blooming across the Midwest and eastern U.S. and are also susceptible to freezing temperatures, according to the center. The warm nighttime temperatures have cut the amount of maple syrup production in Wisconsin because less sap is running from the trees.

Apple growers in New York were assessing damage to their trees after temperatures fell into the 20s last week.

Throughout the middle of March, temperatures were 20 to 30 degrees above normal, according to a statement by the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

Jet Stream

The warmth was caused mainly by the jet stream, a current of air across the continent, which was much farther to the north than normal, according to Mike Halpert, deputy director of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland.

While the location of the jet stream is unusual, it isn’t outside standard weather deviations, Halpert said. More study will be needed to determine if the shift in the weather pattern was because of climate change, he said in an interview March 26.

Warm weather will probably continue through the center of the country until at least April 10, according to the climate center’s latest 6- to 10-day outlook, published on March 31.

There is a 60 percent chance that temperatures will rise above average throughout the Midwest and Mississippi River Valley, including in Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans, according to the center.

Normal temperatures are based on a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010. The normal temperatures, re-set last year, were 0.5-degree warmer than the previous benchmarks based on the 1971-2000 average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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