OCS: Oklahoma's March weather report

Oklahoma Climatological Survey
After a rough bitter cold spell last month, Central Oklahoma begins its transition to Spring as birdsong fills the morning air.

The first month of spring greeted Oklahoma with warmer and more tranquil weather than the historic cold and snowy February that preceded it.

While March offered up momentary glances of nearly every weather hazard in Oklahoma’s arsenal, the month was most often quiet. By coincidence—although state lore will say it’s the norm—the most active weather occurred during Oklahoma’s collectively shared spring break.

On March 16-17, local National Weather Service offices issued a blizzard warning in the Panhandle, and severe thunderstorm and tornado watches in the main body of the state. That storm system started with severe weather across western Oklahoma the evening of the 16th, and transitioned to snow the morning of the 17th. Snowfall of 3-4 inches was being driven by 40 mph winds to create white-out conditions across far northwestern Oklahoma throughout the day on the 17th while the severe weather was pushed east. The additional 3-4 inches of snow across the northwest brought seasonal totals to more than 40 inches in that region, with Arnett leading at 42.3 inches. Oklahoma City’s seasonal total of 22.5 inches through March was just 2.7 inches behind its record tally of 25.2 inches from 1947-1948, and ranked sixth highest on record. Tulsa’s seasonal total was 15.8 inches, its 17th highest on record and well behind 2010-2011’s 26.1 inches.

The statewide average precipitation total was 3.07 inches according to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, 0.03 inches above normal, to rank as the 36th wettest March since records began in 1895. The northwestern half of the state saw surpluses of 1-3 inches, while the southeast fell 1-2 inches below normal. The moisture abundance was profound across parts of Oklahoma, with the Panhandle, north central and west central sections each experiencing one of their top 10 wettest Marches on record. The more robust totals came in Osage County, where Foraker and Burbank tallied 8.06 inches and 7.59 inches, respectively. Twenty-five of the 120 Oklahoma Mesonet sites recorded at least 4 inches of rain for the month. Thirty stations saw less than 2 inches, with Fort Cobb seeing the least at 0.64 inches. The first three months of the year ended as the 51st wettest since 1895 with a statewide average of 6.2 inches, 0.23 inches below normal. The January-March moisture distribution was similar to March’s pattern, with surpluses to the northwest and deficits to the southeast.

March was warm by any standard, but especially so following the historic cold weather of the previous month. The statewide average temperature for the month finished at 53.6 degrees, 3.2 degrees above normal, to rank as the 27th warmest March on record. High temperatures rose into the 70s and 80s quite often, with Beaver taking the top spot at 88 degrees on the 29th. Freezes were still common through the month, especially across far northwestern Oklahoma. Kenton recorded March’s lowest reading at 8 degrees on the month’s first day. The first three months of 2021 ended at 41.9 degrees, 1.6 degrees below normal and ranked as the 55th coolest January-March on record.

Drought continued to diminish in Oklahoma during March, dropping to an areal coverage of 10.71 percent on the month’s final U. S. Drought Monitor map. Drought was nearly eliminated across southwestern Oklahoma, although a newer area of drought was attempting to intensify and spread across south central Oklahoma. The April temperature and precipitation outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) indicated increased odds of above normal temperatures across the entire state, and below normal precipitation across the western half of Oklahoma. Given those outlooks, CPC’s April drought outlook considered drought development likely in southwestern and west central Oklahoma, with no changes considered likely over the rest of the state.