This March has been much colder than normal – an impression amplified by comparison with its 2012 counterpart, the warmest Iowa March in 141 years of records.
The statewide average temperature during the first three weeks of this March has been 7.9 degrees cooler than normal, according to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker.
That might seem more bearable if the March freshest in Eastern Iowans’ memories had not been 14.7 degrees warmer than normal.
The nearly 23-degree warmth gap between this March and last – the difference between greening grass and frozen, snow-covered soil — helps explain why many Iowans are fuming at Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania woodchuck who on Feb. 2 erroneously predicted an early onset of spring.
As cool as this March has been, it could be much worse. Though Iowa has not experienced a colder March since 1975, it had earlier experienced 15 colder ones. The coldest on record, in 1960, was 15.2 degrees colder than normal, Hillaker said.
The coldest March temperature in Iowa, 40 degrees below zero, was recorded March 1, 1962, in Waterloo, according to Hillaker.
Looking ahead, Hillaker said the remainder of the month will stay “on the cool side of normal,” with the warmest day in the next seven likely to top out around 38 degrees on Thursday, which compares with a normal high for that date in the low 50s.
Longer range forecasts indicate April in Iowa will be “a little cooler than normal,” but not as far below average as March has been, he said.
While last year’s hot, dry March presaged the state’s worst drought in a generation, precipitation has been above normal in Eastern Iowa since late January, Hillaker said.
During the first three weeks of March, Cedar Rapids has recorded 6.1 inches of snow, well more than the 4 inches that normally falls during the entire month.
Unlike a year ago, farmers and gardeners will have to wait awhile to till their soil, which remains frozen in the northern two-thirds of the state.
Though frost depth is not widely measured and recorded, Hillaker cited the following readings on Thursday: Davenport, 6 inches; Toledo, Iowa, 16 inches; and Cuba City, Wis., 18 inches.