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Why March was colder than January this year

Seattle's skyline, as seen on March 29, 2020.
Tim Durkan
Tim Durkan Photography
Seattle's skyline, as seen on March 29, 2020.

If you’ve been feeling chilly lately, you are not alone. Lots of people may have noticed on walks around their neighborhoods that spring this year has been colder than usual. And in fact, now that March is over, statistics show the month has been colder on average than January.

“That really gets people’s notice,” says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

The average temperature for March 2020 is 44.8 degrees. For January 2020, it’s 45.1. So, March was not a lot cooler, but Mass confirms what most of us instinctively know: that’s not the normal situation.

“Fairly unusual, but not unprecedented,” Mass says. “Normally March is 4 or 5 degrees warmer than January.”

He explains how the situation comes from the way systems of high pressure offshore, combined with low pressure over the West Coast, produce enhanced northerly flow, bringing in cool Arctic air from the north of us.

Mass says the scenario also generates huge towers aloft of puffy cumulus clouds that are linked to instability, and this past week even a small tornado, called a land spout, in Eastern Washington near Richland.

He says the weather is warming up next week, but it will remain pretty chilly this weekend. You could do some gardening, but stick to plants that can handle the lower temperatures.

“It’s going to be too cold for tomatoes, keep that in mind,” Mass says.

Listen above to hear the full discussion. 

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather bloggerYou can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, via iTunes or Google Play.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

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