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Brace yourself for March weather mood swings

Snow on the ground didn't deter Chris Herrigan,

Snow on the ground didn't deter Chris Herrigan, 42, of East Meadow, from the driving range at Eisenhower Park on Sunday, March 8, 2015. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Call it meteorological March madness.

That's how some weather enthusiasts refer to this month and its wildly divergent swings.

"We can go from a day in the 60s to a day with snow and temperatures in the 20s," said Rich Hoffman, News 12 Long Island meteorologist.

The winter-weary and hopeful might see March as an over-the-hump month, with visions of lightweight jackets and joyous kite-flying.

In fact, it's "a transition month, as we exit winter and enter spring," said Jessica Spaccio, climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell. "So, we do see a wide range of weather."

Hoffman points to the wide span between the month's record high and low, with the warmest day -- 82 degrees -- recorded March 13, 1990. Dip down 77 degrees, and you come to the month's record low of 5, set March 4, 2009.

That's the widest variation for any month since 1984, when records for Long Island MacArthur Airport started being kept, Spaccio said, with January a close second with a 76-degree span.

As for snowfall, Hoffman said he likes to use March 17 as a turning point when chances lessen. Already, he's spotted the chance of snow for around March 15 to 16 -- so keep those snowblowers and plows at the ready.

Indeed, March is the fourth snowiest month, after February, January and December, Spaccio said, accounting for 18.1 percent of annual snowfall.

There have been years, though, when the monthly average of 4.5 inches has been greatly exceeded. Take 2009, when a record 9.7 inches fell on March 2, which, when added to the snowfall from a day earlier, resulted in 13.5 inches of fresh snow just two days into the new month.

That year was also "a near miss" for the John P. Reilly Memorial East Islip St. Patrick's Day parade, scheduled each year for the first Sunday in March, said Dave Ring, parade chairman. That year "the heavy snow hit" about an hour after the parade had finished, he said.

This year's parade, though, did not escape, with 2 to 3 of March 1's 5.6-inch snow total already on the ground as the march got started, he said. So far this month, more than a foot of snow has fallen on parts of the Island.

It's been "hit or miss every year," he said of the 50-year-old event, with some years seeing sunny skies and temperatures around the 60s, others cold with strong winds, and one year memorable for its steady drizzle and plummeting temperatures.

"March is March," Ring said. "That's the way it is" for the parade, which has never been canceled or postponed.

Despite all the April showers fuss, it turns out that March is actually the wettest month, Spaccio said, with April the runner up. With a monthly average of 4.44 inches, March accounts for 9.6 percent of normal annual precipitation, she said.

And, based on average wind speeds, March also is the windiest month, but not by much, Spaccio said.

To the relief of many, February's weather pattern that delivered Arctic blasts and record-breaking cold, along with a steady stream of storms, appears to be breaking down, hence a possible five-day string this week of days at or near the 40s, said Brian Colle, professor in Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

That means, heading into March, Long Island could see "occasional cold Canadian air behind storm systems as they move through, but it will be much more rare to get Arctic air masses."

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