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Weather History: March 20: Record temps, storms, snow, tornadoes & flooding

Meteorological events that happened on March 20th:


This was the last of three consecutive record warms days across parts of Colorado. Denver broke a record soaring to 80°. This followed a record high minimum of 52°.


Heavy snow followed the passage of a front across the central Rockies. Denver reported 6.3 inches of snow with gusty winds. The strong cold front plunged temperatures from a high of 60° on 3/19 to a low of 1° on this date.


A late winter storm in Oklahoma produced nearly a foot of snow at Oklahoma City and at Tulsa.


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 F3 tornado tracked through Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, OK just before 10 p.m. destroying 54 aircraft, including 17 transport planes valued at $500,000 dollars a piece. Total damage amounted to more than $10 million dollars, a record for the state that stood until the massive tornado outbreak of 5/3/1999. Major Ernest W. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller were ordered to see if operationally forecasting tornadoes was possible. The tornado prompted the first attempt at tornado forecasting. Forecasters at Tinker believed conditions were again favorable for tornadoes, and issued the first recorded tornado forecast. Five days later on 3/25 at 6pm, a forecasted tornado occurred, crossing the prepared base and damage was minimized. Their successful, albeit somewhat lucky, forecast paved the way for tornado forecasts to be issued by the U.S. Weather Bureau after a long ban.

The city of Juneau received 31 inches of snow in 24 hours, a record for the Alaska capital.


A coastal storm dumped heavy, wet snow in southeastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. 38 inches fell at Morgantown, WV in 24 hours with 50 inches in three days. Allentown, PA checked in with 20 inches.

National Airport only picked up 4.8 inches of wet snow. Arlington had a foot of snow. In the Maryland suburbs, 9 inches fell in Greenbelt; 11 inches in Silver Spring; 15 inches fell at Fort Meade; and 16 inches fell at Bethesda. Much of the Upper Montgomery County and Howard County received over 20 inches and Mt. Airy, MD had 33 inches of snow. The interesting feature of this storm was extreme amount of water content. National Airport in Washington, D.C. recorded a water content of 3.75 inches and some stations reported over 5 inches of liquid content.


A violent tornado created a 63 mile long path of destruction across east central Illinois. The tornado first touched down just southeast of Decatur and moved east-northeast to near Danville. The worst damage occurred at Sadorus, in southwestern Champaign County. 13 houses and 7 mobile homes were destroyed, and another 25 houses were damaged beyond repair; total damage was estimated at $2 million dollars. At the time, the tornado was 1/2 mile wide and had multiple vortices within the main tornado funnel. The tornado then destroyed several homes in Philo. Downtown Ogden took a direct hit from the tornado, with $1 million damage reported.


A major 3-day winter storm was winding down over the Central Plains. Up to 20 inches of snow fell across parts of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. A thick coat of ice coated the landscape from eastern Kansas, across northwestern Missouri and parts of Iowa.


Great Britain recorded their highest wind gust ever as the summit of Scotland’s Cairngorm Mountains, at 4,085 feet had a gust of 173 mph.


A storm produced blizzard conditions in Wyoming and eastern Nebraska, and severe thunderstorms in central Nebraska. Some snowfall totals: 11 inches at Douglas, WY, 12 inches at Glenrock, WY and Chadron, NE. Thunderstorms in central Nebraska produced wind gusts to 69 mph at Valentine, and to 76 mph at Bartley.


Squalls in the Great Lakes Region left up to 8 inches of new snow on the ground in time for the official start of spring.

Unseasonably warm weather prevailed in the western U.S. Several cities reported new record high temperatures for the date, including Tucson, AZ with a reading of 89°.


A strong storm system brought blizzard conditions to far western Kansas during the morning and afternoon hours. Winds of 40 to 60 mph and temperatures in the lower 20s accompanied the snow. Visibilities were reduced to under ½ mile due to blowing and drifting snow. Snowfall amounts were generally in the 1 to 3 inch range with 4 to 7 inches in portions of southwest Kansas near Garden city. Many roads in the area were closed during the storm.

Thunderstorms produced severe weather from east Texas to Alabama and northwest Florida, with nearly 50 reports of large hail and damaging winds during the afternoon and evening hours.


The northeastern U.S. was in the midst of a snowstorm as spring officially began. Snowfall totals in the Green Mountains of Vermont ranged up to 30 inches, and up to 15 inches of snow was reported in the Catskills and Adirondacks of eastern New York State. Totals in eastern Pennsylvania ranged up to 12 inches at Armenia Mountain. The storm resulted in one death, and 49 injuries. Two to six inches of snow blanketed the Washington D.C. area after record heat a few days before with up to 12 inches falling in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A multi-vortex tornado raced through the suburbs of Welkom, South Africa destroying 4,000 homes.


A vigorous storm that started on March 17 and ended on this date across southern California produced 1 to 8 inches of rainfall in lower elevations and up to 14 inches of precipitation in the mountains. 2 to 5 feet of snow fell in the mountains. Local flooding and mud slides resulted. Highway 78 in north San Diego County was flooded and closed. Tornadoes hit Riverside and Muscoy, near San Bernardino. Lightning struck at transformer in the North Park area of San Diego, knocking out power. Lightning also started a house fire. A waterspout came ashore to become a tornado at Camp Pendleton. Two other waterspouts were seen off the coast.


Flooding in the Northwest from heavy rains and melting snows caused 36 mudslides in 24 hours in the Seattle, WA area destroying 4 homes, less than 3 months after severe flooding hit the same area. Rain was especially heavy along the Washington coast, with almost 21 inches in 4 days at the Wynoochee River measuring station near Aberdeen.

Record heat occurred in the western U.S. San Diego, CA set a new record with a temperature of 88°, breaking the old record of 84°, set in 1931. It was their second day in a row of record high temperatures. Los Angeles, CA set a new record high for the third day in a row with a noon time reading of 91°. Away from the west coast, Rapid City, SD set a record high of 78°.


No watches or warnings were in effect when a tornado struck the area around Gainesville, GA during the early morning hours. Two schools and dozens of homes were in the path of the fast moving twister that killed 14 people. Two other people were killed in the late afternoon at Stoneville, NC as a tornado heavily damaged the business district of the town of 3,000 people.


For the fourth day in a row snow fell on Victoria and Vancouver in southwest British Columbia and Vancouver Island Canada, the latest, and deepest, major snowfall ever recorded in that part of the province. The first days of spring accumulated between 4 to 6 inches of snow.

The first "shachenbao" or "sand-dust tempest" of the season severely reduced visibilities and covered everything around the city of Beijing, China in a fine layer of dust from the Mongolian Desert.


Killer tornadoes roared through southwestern Georgia during the early morning hours, killing six and injuring 200 others. A National Weather Service employee who flew over the disaster scene described as looking like a "big lawn mower" had passed across the area. One of the tornadoes passed just south of Camilla, GA, where a devastating tornado had killed 11 people in February 2000.


A severe storm moving through South San Francisco, CA spawned an F1 tornado. Crossing an industrial park and residential area, the tornado damaged at least 20 homes and 20 businesses, including the city's new fire station, and uprooted trees.


Snow accumulated up to 17.8 inches over 24 hours at Grand Island, NE, breaking the old local record for most snowfall in a day by 4.8 inches. The total snowfall over 48 hours was also a record total of 29.7 inches.


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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