March 2013 has been unusually cold and snowy throughout the Northern Hemisphere

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The past several winter seasons have been unusually cold and snowy across much of Europe into North Africa, where 'rare' mid March freezes killed vegetables and citrus in Morocco and also in southern Spain this past week.

Last Thursday night and Friday, a record late winter snowstorm accompanied by near hurricane-force winds trapped thousands of motorists on the busy M1 Highway between Budapest, Hungary and Vienna, Austria.

Snowdrifts piled up to 3 meters high (10 feet) as the violent gusts blocked off major roads across Hungary and other snowbound parts of Eastern Europe, including Slovakia.

Nearly 6,000 cars were stranded on the roads and some 18 trains were stuck Friday between stations in deep snowdrifts. At least 8,000 people took refuge during the blizzard in heated buildings set up by emergency personnel to take in stranded travelers.

Military vehicles with caterpillar tires were called in to take part in the major rescue operations and the removal of literally mountains of snow.

The heaviest March snows in at least 400 years canceled scores of outdoor activities in Budapest on Friday commemorating Hungary's 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs.

Record cold temperatures for so late in the season occurred across much of Europe late last week. Snow fell in London, Paris and northern Italy at Florence. One citrus growing region in southern Spain reported an all-time mid March low temperature of 23 degrees last Friday morning. It was 27 degrees at another station in North Africa. Even northern India saw snow this week. (Where's that dumb 'global warming' when you need it?)

To the south in Serbia and neighboring Montenegro, rapidly melting snows caused several rivers to burst their banks and flood many low-lying towns and villages.

For much of Europe, thanks to unusually chilly late winter/early spring temperatures, March of 2013 will go into the record books as the snowiest such period in at least four centuries, since the early 1600s.

More than 250,000 St. Patrick's revelers last Sunday on March 17 braved snowy and sleety skies in Dublin, Ireland. One observer said that the so-called "people's parade" was the coldest in decades.

In the Southern Hemisphere, a 'rare' late summer freeze on St. Patrick's Day nipped developing corn and soybean crops likewise beset by persistent drought in Argentina south of Buenos Aires.

As far as the North American continent is concerned, the month of March will go into the record books as one of the coldest and snowiest such periods in recorded history, the exact 'opposite' type of weather from the warmest March ever in 2012, when Midwestern farmers were planting corn and other crops in summerlike 80 degree temperatures, a prime example of our long-standing cycle of WIDE WEATHER 'EXTREMES.'

A week ago, Sunday on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, Grand Forks, N.D., plunged to -23 degrees, the city's coldest reading ever for so late in the winter season.

This extremely frigid weather was followed by a raging blizzard that produced more than a 'foot' of snow on top of an already heavy snowpack. This may mean severe flooding early this spring in the Red River Valley as these snows melt. These heavy snows by Tuesday spread into Upstate New York and New England.

Later this past week, the Arctic air plunged all the way south into Dixie. Hard freezes were reported in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. Winter wheat futures rallied on increased winterkill threats and continued persistent drought conditions from central Kansas westward to California, where critical supplies of irrigation water may be rationed later this summer due to the lack of snowmelt waters. I'll have more details on this subject in later columns.

NORTH IDAHO WEATHER REVIEW AND LONG-RANGE OUTLOOKS:

The spring of 2013 literally started with a loud bang!

A violent thunderstorm roared through North Idaho Wednesday afternoon leaving a path of destruction, particularly between Rathdrum and Hauser north of Highway 53.

At Robert Conolly's place in Rathdrum, an estimated 30 to 40 shallow-rooted pine trees, some as tall as 80 feet, were "snapped like pencils" by winds probably in excess of 55 miles per hour. We logged a wind gust of 43 miles per hour at 2:06 p.m. on Wednesday on Player Drive in northwest Coeur d'Alene.

Many trash and recycling bins were "scattered like toys" in our area. Tree branches covered my backyard. People caught outside by the strong winds and heavy rains were "soaked to the skin." An amazing .34 inches fell in just 17 minutes!

The first day of spring, March 20, was the wettest on record in town, at least since 1895, with 0.89 inches of rain, which easily topped the previous record for the date of 0.58 inches in 2002.

Our total March precipitation as of this writing around noon on Thursday was 1.92 inches, almost exactly the normal rainfall of 1.94 inches for the entire month.

But, our precipitation this March doesn't even begin to compare with the record-smashing 7.51 inches of rain that we gauged last March in 2012 when we finished the year with an all-time record 43.27 inches.

Our long-range weather outlook still calls for a cool spring season with a pattern of 'sun and showers.' There may be a snow flurry or two early in April. But, remember, the upcoming summer's weather looks GREAT!

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. Email sfharris@roadrunner.com

Weekly Weather Almanac

• Week's warmest temperature: 52 degrees on March 19

• Week's coldest temperature: 22 degrees on March 23

• Weekly precipitation: 1.04 inches

• Precipitation month to date: 2.06 inches

• Normal precipitation month to date: 1.51 inches

• Precipitation month to date last year: 4.43 inches

• Precipitation year to date: 7.20 inches

• Normal precipitation year to date: 7.45 inches

• Precipitation last year to date: 11.98 inches

• Normal annual precipitation: 26.77 inches

• Total precipitation last year: 43.27 inches

• Precipitation predicted this year: 33.46 inches

• Record annual precipitation: 43.27 inches in 2012

• All-time least annual precipitation: 15.18 inches in 1929

• Weekly snowfall: 1.5 inches

• Snowfall, month to date: 2.8 inches

• Snowfall, month to date last year: 12.3 inches

• Normal snowfall, month to date: 5.1 inches

• Snowfall, season to date: 73.2 inches

• Snowfall to date last season: 78.9 inches

• Normal snowfall, season to date: 66.9 inches

• Normal snowfall, entire season: 69.8 inches

• Total seasonal snowfall last year: 83.4 inches

• Predicted 2012-13 seasonal snowfall: 79.6 inches

• All-time record Cd'A snowfall: 172.9 inches in 2007-08

• Least ever seasonal snowfall: 11.2 inches in 1933-34

• Snowiest month ever in Cd'A since 1895: 82.4 inches in Jan. 1969

Readings taken week ending Sunday, 3 p.m., March 24

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