March 2019 Weather and Its Impacts on Missouri

Pat Guinan
State Climatologist
University of Missouri Extension

March began on a frigid note in Missouri with the first week being the coldest start to the month in nearly 60 years, Figures 1 and 2. Unusual sub-zero temperatures were reported for a couple days, and penetrated as far south as central Missouri, Table 1. Temperatures moderated and remained seasonable for the rest of the month, Figure 3. Preliminary data indicate the average statewide March temperature was 41.4, a little more than 2 degrees below the long-term average. It was the second consecutive below normal month, Figure 4, and the coldest March in five years, Figure 5.

March 2019 Minimum Temperature Extremes*
Station Name* County
Min Temp (°F) Date
Corning Atchison-6 3/4
Grant City 5WSW Worth -6 3/4
Green Ridge Pettis -6 3/4
Sedalia Water PlantPettis-6 3/5
Bethany Harrison-5 3/5
Conception Nodaway -5 3/5
Gallatin 1W Daviess -5 3/4
Green City 5N Sullivan-5 3/4
Richmond 3S Harrison-5 3/4
Unionville Putnam -5 3/4
*Reports are from the NWS Cooperative Network and Missouri Mesonet
Table 1.

Precipitation was above normal statewide with only a handful of counties in far southern Missouri reporting below normal precipitation for the month, Figure 6. Preliminary data indicate the average statewide March total was 4.24 inches, or nearly 1-inch above the long-term average. It was the wettest March in over a decade, Figure 7. A few light snow events occurred during the first week of March and impacted much of the state, with the exception of southeastern Missouri. Total monthly snowfall accumulations were generally 1-3 inches.

The past four months have been unusually wet in Missouri, Figure 8. It was the wettest Dec-Mar period since 2007-08, and 6th wettest Dec-Mar on record, Figure 9. The wet cold season conditions impacted a large part of the central United States, Figure 10, and contributed toward a historic March flood event over parts of the Missouri River Basin.

The catalyst that led to record flooding along the Missouri River and other tributaries was a widespread extreme precipitation event impacting southeastern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and much of Nebraska, Figure 11. On March 13-14 a strong moisture-laden storm system dropped 1-4 inches of precipitation (mostly rainfall) over the 4-state region. The heavy rain fell on a deep snowpack over frozen ground and resulted in significant melting and immediate runoff. Rivers and streams were at capacity prior to the event and the conditions led to rapidly rising rivers and streams with major flooding in the region.

The pulse of high-water flowed downstream with historic flooding occurring along the Missouri River in northwest Missouri. Preliminary river gauge data indicate record crests were established at several locations, Table 2, and Figures 12-13.

Missouri River record crests in northwest Missouri
Location Record Crest Level*
Date Prev. Record
Brownville, NE 45.48 ft 3/16/2019 44.79 ft 6/23/2011
Rulo, NE 28.14 ft 3/20/2019 27.26 ft 6/27/2011
St. Joseph, MO 32.11 ft 3/23/2019 32.07 ft 7/26/1993
*Preliminary USGS observations
Table 2.

The flooding in northwestern Missouri was devastating, Figures 14-15. Standards of living, agriculture and commerce were adversely impacted and there was a significant hit to the economy. It will be a long recovery process before things return to normal.

According to Extension specialists from the northwest region, the impacts were numerous including:

  • 173,000 acres flooded in Atchison, Holt and Buchanan Counties
  • Extensive levee damage, all overtopped or breached from Council Bluffs, IA to St. Joseph, MO
  • Communities flooded with citizens evacuated
  • Numerous roads closed and washed out in places including portions of Interstate 29 which is closed from Council Bluffs, IA to St Joseph, MO
  • Livestock producers on river bottoms had to evacuate animals
  • There are concerns about water contaminants and how they might affect safety of any forage grazed or harvested that had been flooded, as well as concerns about how long forage can survive under water.
  • Local businesses are being impacted because they rely on interstate traffic.
  • Ethanol plants closed
  • Railroad tracks washed away
  • Grain bins, full of grain, destroyed

Extensive flooding also occurred in the Missouri Bootheel during March, due mainly to an extended period of exceptional wetness. Locations in Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Dunklin and Pemiscot counties have received more than 20 inches since January 1, Figure 16, and its been the wettest first three months of the year in 30 years, or since 1989, Figure 17.

The cool and wet March weather slowed vegetative growth and limited early spring fieldwork activity, especially across southeastern sections. A guide to spring frost/freeze probabilities for Missouri can be accessed at Missouri Frost/Freeze Probabilities Guide.

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Average Temp Departure March 1 to March 7, 2019

Figure 1.

Average Temp Departure March 1 to March 7, 1960

Figure 2.

Columbia, MO March Daily Max/Min Temp

Figure 3.

Missouri Monthy Temp Departure from Average* Jan 2018-Mar 2019**

Figure 4.

Missouri Average March Temp 1895-2019*

Figure 5.

March 2019 Precip Departure (in.)

Figure 6.

Missouri Average March Precipitation, 1895-2019*

Figure 7.

Missouri Monthly Precip Departure from Average* Jan 2018-Mar 2019**

Figure 8.

Missouri Average Dec-Mar Precip

Figure 9.

Accumulated Precip (in): Departure from 1981-2010 Normals December 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019

Figure 10.

Accumulated Precipitation (in): March 13 to March 14, 2019

Figure 11.

Brownville, NE Hydrograph

Figure 12.

Rulo, NE Hydrograph

Figure 13.

I-29 Photograph

Figure 14. Looking north from the Z overpass on I-29, Atchison County, MO, March 20, 2019. Photo: Jim Crawford

Z Overpass Photograph

Figure 15. Looking west from the Z overpass, Atchison County, MO March 20, 2019. Photo: Jim Crawford

Missouri Accumulated Precip: January 1 to March 31, 1989

Figure 16.

Missouri Accumulated Precip: January 1 to March 31, 2019

Figure 17.

Missouri Average Temp

Missouri Average Temp Departure

Missouri Accumulated Precip

Missouri Accumulated Precip Departure

Source: Pat Guinan, 573-882-5908