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Meredith Holt, Published March 31 2013

Month of March colder, snowier than average

FARGO – March may have gone out like a shivering little lamb, but we heard its loud lion’s roar all month long.

Though not a record-cold month, WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler said March was 10.6 degrees below average through Saturday.

Yesterday’s low wasn’t expected to occur until midnight, so the official average temperature for the month wasn’t available at press time.

“It’s probably going to go down as the coldest since 1969,” Wheeler said.

However, compared to last March, which was the warmest on record at 13.8 degrees above average, March 2013 seems much worse.

So on average, each day this month was about 24 degrees colder than each day a year ago.

“Last year, people were golfing at the end of March,” said Keith Malakowsky, cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service.

But this weekend, children searched for Easter eggs in the snow, churchgoers bundled up for services and snowflakes started falling by the time families were ready for leftovers.

Not exactly the stuff of springtime.

Consider this: Fargo-Moorhead hit 70 degrees or higher six days of March 2012. This year, temps reached 40 two days of the month, which happened to be the 29th and 30th.

“Not only have we had weather that’s been below freezing, but we’ve had a number of times it’s been below zero,” Wheeler added.

The low of the month was minus 15 degrees on the 17th, the high a mere 42 on Friday.

It’s not just the cold, either. Though only a trace has fallen since the 18th, Fargo’s received 14.6 inches of snowfall for the month, a little above average.

Malakowsky, who lives in north Moorhead, said his measurements averaged about 5.5 inches higher than normal.

“We had 16 days of a trace or more of snow. That’s half a month of snowing,” he said.

Warmer temps the past couple of days brought the average snow depth – taking into account high drifts – from a peak of 20 inches down to 10.

“To have 10 inches of snow on the ground on the first day of April is a lot. Even if you look back at 1997, which is the snowiest winter in Fargo’s history, by the last day of March, the snowpack was down to about 6 inches,” Wheeler said.

But, he said, the fact that the snow depth has gone from 20 to 10 doesn’t mean it’s half gone.

Because of the way melting occurs, “when the snow begins to melt, you lose a lot of depth, but the snowpack becomes denser,” he said.

Using Malakowsky’s measurements, the water content of the snow in the area has only decreased by 5 percent since the 24th.

So, Wheeler explained, it may look like we’ve lost a lot of snow, especially on sidewalks, roads and near houses, but there’s been no runoff.

“Most of the water that’s going to factor into our spring flooding is what’s lying out in the fields – all over the Red River Valley and the tributaries south of here,” he said.

Wheeler said the snowmelt’s only in its infancy on this first day of April, but we’ll be getting into “serious flood mode” within a week or two.

“This week the snowmelt will get under way and things will likely happen fairly quickly,” he said.

With Fargo’s Sandbag Central opening in just a few days, it’s time to leave cold and snowy March 2013 behind and trade in our snow shovels for sandbags.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590