Madness of March weather

Anybody from Rochester knows that the month of March has a history that is, let’s say, notorious.

Anybody from Rochester knows that the month of March has a history that is, let’s say, notorious.

Over the years, folks in Western New York have endured many extremes of the “Madness of March”. There was the blizzard of 1999 when, over a three-day period, we measured over 40 inches of snow. Even for hardy Rochesterians this is a huge amount of snow to clear and plow.

The granddaddy of all March storms was the ice storm of 1991. If you recall, we had over 24 hours of freezing rain, encasing local trees and power lines with a glaze of ice. The sheer weight of that ice collapsed most of the tree canopy and pushed many people into darkness for two weeks or more. Statistically this was considered a 100-year storm.

So, any big storm in March is not uncommon. But what about six unusual weather events in a consecutive two-week time period?

This year we started the month with a record temperature when the mercury reached a high of 66°. Maybe you thought winter was finished. March 2nd dashed our hopes when winds gusted to 64 mph and by the weekend, the temperature plummeted into the single digits. Then, just two days later, spring was in the air again as the atmospheric thermostat rose to 61°.

Once again, our spring fling came to a crushing end the following day. In what is now chronicled in Rochester weather history as the second highest wind speed ever recorded, the top wind speed of 81 mph created extensive damage to trees and power lines leaving thousands without light and heat for several days. Just as the damage was cleared and power restored, the now infamous snowstorm had begun.

On March 14th and 15th almost 27 inches of snow graced the hills and valleys of Western New York. For many this was a “shut-down” storm with many roads unpassable. Again a historical event tempered by many extreme events in a short period of time.

In over 30 years of weather forecasting, I have never seen a period such as this highlighted by the number of events so acute and intense. To a climatologist (which I am not), any one of these single events may not raise an eyebrow, but the totality of back-to-back extremes has certainly sparked attention.

Is this due to a changing climate? If any one of these events occurred alone in a single month, I think most of us would say the answer is “no.”

But in my opinion, in the bigger picture, when you consider the last three weeks, the answer may be “yes”.