National Snow & Ice - March 2015


NCDC added Alaska climate divisions to its nClimDiv dataset on Friday, March 6, 2015, coincident with the release of the February 2015 monthly monitoring report. For more information on this data, please visit the Alaska Climate Divisions FAQ.


During March, much of the contiguous U.S. was warmer than average, with the exception of the Northeast. The western U.S. was particularly warm, which limited snow cover and mountain snow pack across the region, contributing to long-term drought concerns. In the Northeast, a snowy season led to Boston, Massachusetts having its snowiest winter on record. A coastal storm dropped 2.9 inches of snow on March 15th pushing the seasonal snowfall total in Boston to 108.6 inches. This surpassed the previous record of 107.6 inches set in 1995/96. Snow records for Boston date back to 1891.

According to NOAA's National Snow Analysis, at the beginning of March, 63.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. had snow on the ground — the highest terrain in the West, much of the Great Plains, Midwest, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. The monthly snow cover peaked on March 1st and quickly shrank reaching the monthly minimum on the 31st with only 8.0 percent of the Lower 48 being snow covered. At the end of the month, the high terrain in the West, parts of the western Great Lakes, and the Northeast had snow on the ground.

CONUS snow cover anomalies
U.S. March Snow Cover Extent Anomalies
Source: Rutgers Global Snow Lab

According to NOAA data analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the March snow cover extent for the contiguous U.S. was 500,000 square miles, 244,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average. This marked the fifth smallest March snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record and smallest since 2012. Below-average snow cover and snow pack was observed across much of the West and Great Plains. Above-average snow cover was observed in the Northeast, mostly due to snow not melting from the major snow events earlier in the winter season. The Alaska March snow cover extent was 5,000 square miles below average and tied as the 14th smallest on record. Below-average snow cover was observed across southwestern parts of the state.

Western US Mountain Snow pack
April 1 Mountain Snow Pack
Source: USDA

Winter and spring mountain snow pack provide a crucial water source across much of the western United States. The total annual water budget for agriculture and human use in the mountainous West is highly dependent on the amount of snow melt that will occur in spring and is proportional to the amount of snow on the ground. The annual snow pack typically peaks in early April. As of April 1st, most locations from the Great Basin to the West Coast had much below-average snow pack. In the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains, snow pack totals were less than 25 percent of normal and record low for several locations. For parts of California, this marks the fourth consecutive spring with much below average snow pack, causing significant concerns for water resources going into the warm and dry season. Please visit our supplemental page for additional information on April 1st snow water equivalents across the region. Snow pack was also less than 25 percent of normal for much of the Great Basin and southern Rockies. Near-average snow pack was observed in the Central and Northern Rockies. In Alaska, snow pack totals less than 25 percent of average were observed across southern regions of the state, while interior locations had near-average snow pack.


Significant Events

This analysis includes only a select list of the winter storms to impact the country during March. For additional information on each winter storm, please visit the NOAA Weather Prediction Center's 2015 Winter Storm Summaries.

March 1-2 Indiana Snowfall
Mar 1-2 Indiana Snowfall
Source: NWS

An early spring snow and ice storm impacted the Mid-South, Ohio Valley, and Northeast on March 1st and 2nd as a low pressure system moved from the Mississippi River Valley and off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Snowfall totals across the Ohio Valley and Northeast ranged from five to ten inches with the highest totals in Illinois and Indiana. Indianapolis, Indiana received 7.9 inches of snow, easily topping their March average snowfall of 2.6 inches. Freezing rain totals over a quarter of an inch were reported along the southern edge of the storm from Arkansas to New Jersey. The storm system brought 2.1 inches of snow to Boston, contributing to the city's record-breaking snow year. The largest impacts of the storm were closed highways and flight delays and cancellations in the Ohio Valley and Northeast. Behind the system cold Arctic air filtered into the region where several cities set new monthly cold temperature records. In Frankfort, Kentucky the temperature dropped to -10°F; the previous record cold March temperature was -3.0°F set in 1960. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the temperature dropped to -4.0°F, dropping below the previous March record of -1.0°F that occurred in 1980.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: National Snow & Ice for March 2015, published online April 2015, retrieved on April 26, 2015 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/snow.