Cape May’s Record Warm March 2012

Cape May, NJ – It’s history!   The month of  March was the the warmest ever in Cape May.   Temperatures were an average of 50.7 degrees last month, 7 degrees warmer than usual and a brand new record for the area.  Last month also set a new record for the average maximum daily temperature for March – 59 degrees. Overall, March felt almost balmy.

The winter of 2011-2012 is now in the books as one of the warmest ever in Cape May. This winter left most of us scratching our heads. It was almost too much to believe. Bathing suits on the beach on December 31, running shorts on the boardwalk in January, daffodils in February, and some days in the mid 70′s in March.

National Weather Service statistics show that not only were the five months from November through March  much warmer than normal, both the months of December and March set records as the warmest since records have been kept. February missed setting a record for average daily temperature by a mere three tenths of a degree.

Warm Ocean

Ice? There was almost no ice this past winter. Ponds either did not freeze or formed ice for only a couple of days. The usual ice flows and ice piles on Delaware Bay beaches never formed.

Why? The air temperatures simply were not warm enough to push sea temperatures much below 40º F this winter.  For much of the winter, surf and nearshore water temperatures did not dip much below 45º F. In most winters, water temperatures go below 40º F.  Temperatures below 28ºF are needed for ice to form in the back bays and around the docks.

Little Snow

Snow? Barely 2” for the entire winter, far below the 12” per year average in Cape May.  Compared to the winter of 2009-2010, when we had more than 40″ of snow, this past winter we didn’t even have to break out the snow shovels.

Taken together, these data demonstrate temperatures that are definitely above normal.

Weather Patterns

Although changes in the jetstream this past winter explain our warm, dry winter in much of the United States, why the Jetstream stayed to our north, blocking arctic blasts, is a better question.

Climatologists explain that the normal mass of high pressure cold air that brings us cold winter weather did not push the jet stream southward.  Each year that high pressure mass moves within the arctic in what is called an arctic oscillation.  This year that oscillation was good to us, but did put parts of Europe and even Alaska in a deep freeze.

That we had so many record temperatures this past winter suggests to some climatologists that the normal arctic oscillation has changed.

About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.