March Precipitation Forecast: NOAA Outlook Predicts Increased Rain, Snow in Many Regions

rain in nyc
A woman walks walks through an evening rainfall on January 29, in New York City. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Heading into March can feel as if spring is just around the corner. In most places, the harshest winter conditions are are over, with the end of February marking the end of the meteorological winter. But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, the upcoming month could bring far more precipitation than average to many areas of the country.

The Climate Prediction Center forecasts precipitation, which can include rain, snow, sleet and hair, and temperature a month in advance, and three months in advance. The forecasts released on February 21 and 28 showed that some parts of the country, specifically the East, could see increased precipitation over the 30-day-period from the forecast's release.

The forecasts draw from several sources. "There's a number of different things," Jon Gottschalck, the chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center told Newsweek. The ENSO cycle, the current weather conditions, previous patterns, historical data and models all play a role in predicting upcoming precipitation and temperature.

What the one-month outlook shows is that much of the country has a chance of above-average precipitation in March. The outlooks don't predict the amount of precipitation, only the chance of above-average precipitation, so the actual amount will vary depending on the region. Along much of the eastern seaboard there's between a 30 and 50 percent chance of increased precipitation, the outlook map shows.

The Central Plains, the Southwest and California will also likely see an increase in precipitation, according to the center's outlook. Some states have about a 60 percent chance of increased precipitation, specifically Nevada and Utah.

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The precipitation outlook from NOAA. NOAA

"The precipitation forecast for March was pretty difficult actually," Gottschalck told Newsweek. Part of that has to do with the fact that precipitation was already presenting in the forecast.

"A lot of the signal was showing up early on in the shorter-term forecast," he said, meaning the weather forecasts for the month were already showing that there was a lot of precipitation expected, particularly in the East for early March.

The same was true for the temperature forecast. The short-term forecast showed significant cold in some areas that likely wouldn't be outweighed by whatever happened in the later weeks of the month.

"There's different time scales of what we call climate variability of climate patterns that impact the monthly, or even the seasonal forecasts," Gottschalck said. One of the biggest is the ENSO cycle, or the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, which can play a big role in seasonal and monthly outlooks. There are certain precipitation patterns that are more or less likely to occur in certain parts of the country, depending on what that El Niño or La Niña it doing, he explained. Currently, there's a weak El Niño event in March, and as spring and summer develop, the conditions from El Niño could lessen even more.

Information is also drawn from historical observations of conditions, combined with the typical conditions that are either present or expected to occur for the month.

Weather models are the last element used to predict the weather outlook. "We actually run mathematical models for certain states of the atmosphere whether it be temperature, precipitation, snowfall," Gottschalck said.

The models used at the Climate Prediction Center run longer than those typically used for near- future weather predictions. "So we can have a short-time climate numerical model prediction that extends to 30 days for March, but we can also run that out to 100 days, for example, for the March, April, May period," Gottschalck told Newsweek.

NOAA is expected to release its spring outlook later in March, which will include more information about the temperatures and precipitation expected through the spring months.