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Weather History: March 17: Record temps, storms, snow, wind, dust & tropics

Meteorological events that happened on March 17th:


A late-winter thunderstorm struck with thunder that boomed like cannon fire at Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. A lightning bolt entered a home, hurling a young woman sitting at the family piano across the room.


A winter storm in southwestern and central Tennessee produced 26.3 inches of snow at Riddleton, and 18.5 inches at Memphis. It was the deepest snow on record for those areas.


The temperature at Snake River, WY dipped to -50° setting a record for the U.S. for the month of March.


Suffocating dust storms occurred frequently in southeast Colorado between the 12th and the 25th of the month. Six people died, and many livestock starved or suffocated. Up to six feet of dust covered the ground. Schools were closed, and many rural homes were deserted by tenants.


An early season heat wave occurred across the East. Some records included: Raleigh, NC: 92°, Richmond, VA: 91°, Sussex, NJ: 90°, Hammonton, NJ: 90°, Norfolk, VA: 89°, Washington, D.C.: 88°, Salisbury, MD: 87°, Philadelphia, PA: 86°, Trenton, NJ: 86°, Baltimore, MD: 85°, Reading, PA: 85°, Allentown, PA: 84°, Wilmington, DE: 83°, Atlantic City, NJ: 83° and Mt. Pocono, PA: 76°.


The ban on using the word "tornado" issued in 1886 ended on this date. In the 1880s, John P. Finley of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, then handling weather forecasting for the U.S., developed generalized forecasts on days tornadoes were most likely. But in 1886, the Army ended Finley's program and banned the word "tornado" from forecasts because the harm done by a tornado prediction would eventually be greater than that which results from the tornado itself?. The thinking was that people would be trampled in the panic if they heard a tornado was possible. The ban stayed in place after the Weather Bureau, now the National Weather Service, took over forecasting from the Army. A tornado that wrecked 52 large aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base, OK, on 3/20/1948, spurred Air Force meteorologists to begin working on ways to forecast tornadoes. The Weather Bureau also began looking for ways to improve tornado forecasting and established the Severe Local Storm Warning Center, which is now the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK. The ban on the word "tornado" fell on this date when the new center issued its first “Tornado Watch”.


A St. Patrick's Day snowstorm brought 20 inches to some places near Boston, MA. Nearby, the Blue Hill observatory at Milton recorded 12.6 inches.


Chicago, IL had their greatest snowstorm for so late in season as 14 inches fell.


A strong F3 tornado tore through Venice, FL during the early morning hours. 55 homes were destroyed and 220 were damaged. Two people were killed and 45 were injured.


A powerful spring storm produced severe thunderstorms over the Central Gulf Coast States and heavy snow across the Northern Plains. A tornado caused $3 million dollars damage at Natchez, MS, and 6 inches of rain in five hours caused $5 million dollars damage at Vicksburg, MS. Cactus, TX received 10 inches of snow. Parts of western Kansas reported blizzard conditions.


A winter storm produced heavy snow from the northeast Texas panhandle to the Ozark area of Missouri and Arkansas. Up to 15 inches of snow was reported in parts of Oklahoma and Texas. Snowfall totals in the Ozark area ranged up to 14 inches, with unofficial reports as high as 22 inches around Harrison, AR. A few locations in northwest Oklahoma received as much as 15 inches of snow.


Strong northerly winds ushered snow and arctic cold into the north central U.S. Winds gusted to 58 mph at Sidney and Scottsbluff, NE. Cadillac, MI received 12 inches of snow, and International Falls, MN reported a record low of -22°.


Showers and thunderstorms associated with a slow moving cold front produced torrential rains across parts of the southeastern U.S. over a 2-day period. Flooding claimed the lives of at least 22 people, including 13 in Alabama. Up to 16 inches of rain deluged southern Alabama, with 10.63 inches reported at Mobile, AL in 24 hours. The town of Elba, AL was flooded with 6 to 12 feet of water causing more than $25 million dollars damage with total flood damage across Alabama exceeded $100 million dollars. 26 counties were declared disaster areas. Columbus, GA picked up 7.22 inches of rain to set their all time 24-hour record.

The east coast heat wave smashed 300 record highs over the previous six days, including this date. Georgetown, DE hit 77°, Burlington, VT soared to 78° & Buffalo, NY hit 78° breaking their record at 9:40AM.


A vigorous storm that started on this day and ended on March 20 produced 1 to 8 inches of rainfall in lower elevations and up to 14 inches of precipitation in the mountains of southern California. During the period, 6.17 inches fell at Mt. Wilson and four inches fell in Santa Barbara. Two to five feet of snow fell in the mountains. Local flooding and mud slides resulted.


Calgary, Alberta Canada experienced its worst March snowstorm in 113 years, with 13 inches of snow reported at the airport and from 15-18 inches in other parts of the city.


Intense Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Vance moved across portions of Western Australia. A record wind gust for the Australian mainland of 167 mph was recorded at the Learmonth Meteorological Office.


A Pacific storm system with lots of moisture caught forecasters by surprise, dumping 25.7 inches of snow at Anchorage, AK in 24 hours, easily surpassing the old mark of 15.6 inches.


A powerful storm system crossed the Mediterranean Sea causing wind damage and power outages across Greece and heavy snowfall in the southern Peloponnesian region. Hurricane force winds swept across parts of the Aegean Sea.

On this date through March 23, a week of heavy rainfall flooded parts of northern Afghanistan's Samangan and Kunduz provinces. The flooding caused at least 11 deaths with hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed.


An early set heat wave gripped the southwestern U.S. All-time March high temperature records were set in several Utah locations: Zion National Park: 91°, Hanksville: 88°, Cedar City: 78° and Heber City: 74°.

Laughlin, NV hit 100°. This set the record for the earliest that any Nevada location has hit the century mark.


Check out my colleague Weather Examiners:

Baltimore, MD area weather with Tony Pann at

Orlando, FL area weather with Dr. Steve Oliver at

Houston, TX area weather & the weekly Weather America Newsletter with Larry Cosgrove at

NOAA Headlines Examiner with Dr. Steve Oliver and IPR at

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