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Drought Continued to Affect Much of the West

NOAA image of USA March 2004 weather extremes.April 14, 2004 — Virtually all parts of the contiguous United States experienced warmer-than-average temperatures in March 2004, according to scientists at the NOAA Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The West, Southeast and parts of the Northeast were unusually dry, while precipitation was above-average across the middle of the nation. The global monthly average temperature was the second warmest on record for the month of March. (Click NOAA image for larger view of USA March 2004 weather extremes. Please credit “NOAA.”)

NOAA scientists report that preliminary data indicate the average temperature for the contiguous United States in March (based on preliminary data) was 47.7 degrees F (8.7 degrees C), which was 5.2 degrees F (2.9 degrees C) above the 1895-2003 mean, the third warmest March on record. Florida was the only state with a near-normal March temperature. The mean temperature in 17 western and central states was much above-average, including New Mexico, which had its warmest March on record. An additional 30 states were warmer-than-average. The Southwest region as a whole had its warmest March on record. Conversely, Alaska was cooler-than-average with a statewide temperature that was 1.8 degrees F (1.0 degrees C) below the 1971-2000 mean.

Precipitation for the contiguous United States was below-average, with much of the West, Southeast and Northeast drier-than-normal. However, wetter-than-average conditions occurred in 12 states along a broad path from Texas to Minnesota. The Southeast region (consisting of states from Alabama to Virginia) had its driest March on record. The January-March 2004 period was generally drier-than-average for much of the East Coast in marked contrast to 2003, which had record or near-record precipitation for many states.

Below-average precipitation occurred in many areas of the West, where drought has persisted for much of the past four to five years. The drier-than-average conditions and much warmer-than-normal temperatures contributed to record snowpack losses during the month of March and left mountain snowpack levels below-average in most parts of the West. Despite the rapid snowmelt, reservoir levels remained below-average in many areas. By the end of the month, the drought area had expanded to include 59 percent of the western United States in moderate-to-extreme drought, based on a widely used measure of drought, the Palmer Drought Index. By contrast, the most extensive drought on record for the West occurred in July 1934, when 97 percent of the region was in moderate to extreme drought.

Based on preliminary data, the average global surface temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during March 2004 was 1.3 degrees F (0.7 degrees C) above the 1880-2003 long-term mean. This was the second warmest March since 1880 (the beginning of reliable instrumental records), slightly cooler than March 2002.

Land surface temperatures were anomalously warm throughout most parts of the world, while temperatures in much of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific remained near average as the neutral phase of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) continued. A heat wave in eastern Australia continued during the first three weeks of March and much of the continent was drier than normal for the month. Other areas with below-average precipitation included large parts of eastern China, Southwest Asia and much of western Europe. Areas with above-average precipitation included much of Russia, the Amazon Basin and parts of Eastern Europe.

The NOAA Satellites and Information Service is the nation’s primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. It operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications such as fire detection, ozone monitoring and sea surface temperature measurements.

The agency also operates three data centers, which house global data bases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics and paleoclimatology.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
Climate of 2004 — March in Historical Perspective

NOAA Satellites and Information Service

Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, (301) 457-5005