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Spring Steps Forward During March

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Winter seemed to take a final bow after February in Oklahoma, leaving March with a warm and wet transition to spring. Areas of southern Oklahoma failed to see temperatures dip below freezing, and Hollis managed to hit 100 degrees on one of the earliest dates in state history. The lack of wintry weather was replaced by active spring weather. Severe storms were not prevalent, but there were three distinct storm systems that brought damaging weather to the state. Severe storms on the 19th spawned at least two tornadoes according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service. The first twister touched down just after midnight on the 19th near Olive in Creek County, damaging trees and a few structures. The second tornado struck later that morning near Okemah in Okfuskee County, again damaging trees and a few structures. The two confirmed tornadoes became the fourth and fifth the state has seen thus far in 2020, equaling the 1950-2019 average for those three months.

According to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the statewide average rainfall total was 4.93 inches, 1.89 inches above normal to rank as the fifth wettest March since records began in 1895. As is usually the case in Oklahoma, the heftiest totals were primarily across eastern sections. Totals from 6-9 inches were common southeast of Interstate 44, with Byars leading the way at 9.44 inches for the month. Of the Mesonet’s 120 sites, 74 had at least 5 inches of rain, and 25 of those sites had at least 7 inches. The only stations that failed to reach at least an inch were in the far northwest, including three of the sites in the drought plagued western Panhandle. Kenton had the lowest March total with 0.32 inches. The far northwest was the only area of the state with a moisture deficit – generally less than an inch – while surpluses generally grew to 1-3 inches elsewhere. Southwestern and south central Oklahoma saw their third wettest Marches on record at 2.42 inches and 2.94 inches above normal, respectively. The first three months of the year finished with a statewide average of 10.21 inches, 3.78 inches above normal to rank as the fifth wettest January-March since 1895.

The statewide average temperature was 54.9 degrees according to the Mesonet, 4.5 degrees above normal to rank as the 12th warmest March on record. That lofty ranking was owed as much to the lack of cold weather as to an abundance of warm weather. Fifteen Mesonet sites failed to dip below freezing during the month, and more than half spent less than 10 hours at or below 32 degrees. Eva led the state with 76 hours below freezing. The month’s lowest temperature of 20 degrees occurred at three different sites over two days. The month’s highest temperature was a record breaker. Hollis reached 100 degrees on the 26th for 2020’s first triple-digit temperature, the last dating back to Sept. 27, 2019. It also set the mark for the highest temperature ever recorded on any March 26 in Oklahoma history. The January-March statewide average temperature was 46.4 degrees, 2.9 degrees above normal to rank as the 16th warmest such period since 1895.

Very little drought remained in the state at the end of March, although the heaviest precipitation failed to hit the most stricken area. The far western Panhandle remained in moderate-to-severe drought, virtually unchanged since the beginning of last fall. Smaller areas of persistent drought in the far southwest received enough precipitation to be improved to the point of elimination. The April temperature and precipitation outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) do not provide much hope for drought relief in the western Panhandle with increased odds of above normal temperatures and precipitation over much of the state, but no such indications in that area. Given those outlooks, CPC’s April drought outlook expects some relief for the remaining dry conditions in the far southwest, but persistence and possibly even more development southeastward in the western Panhandle.