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Weathercatch: March mild temperatures likely to linger with some unsettled interludes

The first day of spring was gentle as a lamb – a welcome change to the surly cat that preceded it. After a stretch of wet and windy weather for much of the Inland Northwest, Mother Nature delivered patches of sunshine with the temperature topping out at 62 degrees on Sunday.

Our region’s average high for that date is 50 degrees.

March’s first half was erratic, with a variety of weather conditions not only from day to day but sometimes within a single day. Rain showers in the morning. Clear and calm in the afternoon. Wind gusts at night. During a two-week span, we received 2.03 inches of precipitation, experienced frequent gusts exceeding 20 mph and heard the first thunder of the year.

Even so, with the exception of two days, one weather condition remained fairly constant: Mild temperatures. Most of March has been warmer than usual. Just four days into the month, the mercury hit 59 degrees in Spokane – 10 degrees above normal for that date. You may recall similar mild temperatures during the same period last year. What’s going on?

A strong El Nino, the periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean waters, has been pushing warm air across the Pacific Northwest. Last March, it was brewing; this March, it’s starting to wind down.

But even El Nino can’t deter cold fronts that barge in from the north. On March 13 and 14, temperatures nose-dived and the weather turned snarly as air flow over Washington switched from southwesterly to northwesterly. Cool air poured into the region along with heavy rains, gusty winds at 30 mph and even occasional cracks of thunder.

And yet another storm system moved in Monday night, unloading heavy rain, snow, fog, hail and wind over many parts of Eastern Washington. On Tuesday, it wasn’t unusual to see people in boots and winter coats.

On Easter, there’s a good chance the bunny trail may be a bit damp. While the weather may be mild and dry that morning, a return visit by the surly cat could bring more precipitation later in the day.

Nic Loyd is a meteorologist with WSU’s AgWeatherNet. Linda Weiford is a WSU news writer and weather geek.


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