The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

March 21, 2014

Spring forecast: Cool in North, still dry in West

The first day of spring? Some people in Maine were shoveling 6 inches of new snow. And in Michigan, college students couldn’t even burn a snowman.

OK, so it was a fake snowman. But it was real snow that got in the way.

For many Americans, it feels like winter is hanging on like a bad cold.

And now government forecasters are predicting a cooler-than-usual spring across the northern U.S. Even just next week, frigid Arctic air is expected to blanket parts of the East.

“This is one of those winters — the gift that keeps on giving,” said Jon Gottschalck of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The stubborn cold is delaying any flooding into April in the upper Midwest to New England. While major flooding is not expected during the next three months, forecasters said the greatest threat exists in the southern Great Lakes because of above-normal snowpack, thick ice on streams and rivers, and snow on the ground.

Experts warned of possible isolated flooding in certain areas depending on how fast snow melts and how much rain falls.

After a miserable winter, residents in parts of Maine dug out again on the first day of spring. The snowfall knocked out power to some.

“I’m just looking forward to not bundling up,” said 33-year-old Rich Maggi, while taking a smoke break in the downtown Portland area where the snow had melted by midday. “I think this was hard on even the most winter-hardened people.”

Prolonged wintry weather forced a Michigan university to delay a yearly rite of spring — the burning of a fake snowman — after the campus was blanketed with 5 inches of snow overnight on top of knee-deep drifts.

Officials at Lake Superior State University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the Canadian border said the snow and high winds raised safety concerns, and the ceremony was moved to Friday.

The snowman stuffed with shredded paper usually is dubbed Frosty. But this one was named Polar Vortex after the frigid air mass that punished the East Coast and Midwest this winter and pushed cold into the South.

Since the snowman is usually lit with a propane torch, “you’ve got sparks flying, and we don’t need anybody to get a hole burned in a coat or worse,” said university spokesman Tom Pink.

Some were disappointed but others preferred waiting until Friday “when it’s supposed to be sunny — at least a little like spring,” he said.

In the West, parched conditions that have gripped California and the Southwest will continue with little relief, the federal government reported in its annual spring outlook. If the drought persists, it’ll likely lead to a busy wildfire season.

California is in its third consecutive dry year, forcing some rural communities to ration water and farmers to sell their cattle.

“Looking forward, we see little improvement unfortunately in some of the most impacted drought areas,” said Gottschalck, acting operations chief at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Below-average rainfall and snowfall coupled with the upcoming dry season could cause parts of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas to develop drought conditions, he said.

While the northern U.S. could see below-normal temperatures, forecasters said it is likely to be warmer than usual along the West Coast, across the southern portion of the country and in Alaska.

The spring outlook comes after NOAA and many private weather forecast companies predicted equal chances for unusual warmth, cold, snow, rain and even average weather for the winter due to lack of certain global weather factors.

NOAA’s Mike Halpert said the weather-weary nation is ready for a change.

“After a memorable winter I suspect most of us are ready for spring,” he said in a NOAA video.

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