Following a record warm March in 2012, a persistent pattern of wintry weather across Kentucky left March 2013 as one of the coldest on record. The statewide average temperature for March based on the Kentucky Mesonet, the Commonwealth’s official source of climatological observations, was 39.8 degrees while the statewide average temperature for March 2012 was 57.9 degrees, according to Stuart Foster, state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Mesonet.
Based on historical records from stations operated by the National Weather Service, 2013 was the coldest March on a statewide basis since 1969, when the average temperature for the month was 38.3 degrees.
In the Bowling Green area, after a second consecutive mild and mostly snowless winter, March 2013 brought sharply colder temperatures and five days of measurable snowfall.
March temperatures for Bowling Green were 5.5 degrees below normal and ranked as the 12th coldest March since 1894 and among the coldest since 1971, according to WKU meteorology faculty member Greg Goodrich. March 1996 was similarly cold but no official temperature records were collected in Bowling Green that year.
The cold March was surprising for many considering the winter months of December, January and February were 3.8 degrees above normal and ranked as the 11th warmest winter on record. This was the second consecutive mild winter for Kentucky, as the winter of 2011-12 ranked as the second warmest on record.
The big difference between this year and last is that March 2012 was by the far the warmest March on record at 12.7 degrees above normal. March 2012 had 11 days with highs in the 80s and another 11 days with highs in the 70s, but March 2013 had only three days with highs in the 70s and 11 days with highs in the 30s and 40s.
Snowfall in March was 2.5 inches, which ranked as the 20th snowiest March on record. This was also the 12th time on record that March had more snowfall than the other three winter months combined, as only 1.3 inches of snow fell from December through February. The half-inch of snow that fell on both March 25 and March 26 ranks as the latest occurring measurable snowfall in Bowling Green since March 1996, which experienced an inch of snow on April 1.
“While the cold and snow of March 2013 may have left many in Kentucky with spring fever, we must not forget about the historic March 1960,” Goodrich said. Nearly 3 feet of snow fell over Bowling Green in the first 11 days of the month that year, he noted, which by itself would rank as the fourth snowiest winter in history. High temperatures stayed in the 30s for much of the month, which left the average temperature for the month at 15.8 degrees below normal.
“A question on the minds of many local farmers and gardeners is whether or not cold and snowy Marches can predict the type of summer we might have here in southcentral Kentucky,” Goodrich said. “Unfortunately, analysis shows that there are no statistical relationships between cold and snowy Marches and the following summer temperatures.”
Previous cold Marches have been just as likely to have been followed by hot summers as cool summer, he said. Summer rainfall tends to be slightly greater in years following cold and snowy Marches, but the relationship is not statistically significant. “Just as with the stock market,” Goodrich said, “past performance in weather is often not a good indicator of future performance.”
Foster noted that in late March 2012 farmers were already planting corn, unaware that the early warmth would be followed by severe drought as summer arrived. Some areas of western Kentucky received more precipitation on March 8, when more than 3 inches of rain fell, than they would receive for the entire spring season in 2012.
One benefit from this year’s wintry weather pattern has been the reduced occurrence of severe weather, Foster said. Last year’s tornado outbreak on March 2 was one of the worst in Kentucky’s history, but only one tornado was reported across the state in March of this year, an EF-1 tornado that touched down briefly in Pulaski County on March 24.
“The dynamic nature of our climate is evident in the extreme contrast in weather that we experienced last year and this year in the month of March,” Foster said.