Warmer than Average Spring Predicted for Most of US

NOAA's GOES-13 satellite captured this image of the Earth at the spring equinox, this morning (March 20, 2013) at 7:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
NOAA's GOES-13 satellite captured this image of the Earth at the spring equinox, this morning (March 20, 2013) at 7:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. (Image credit: NOAA)

Editor's note: this story was updated at 12:50 p.m.

Although it's still chilly throughout much of the country, spring will soon turn up the heat.

The majority of the United States will experience above-average temperatures over the next three months, said Laura Furgione, deputy director for the National Weather Service (NWS). Her remarks came during the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's spring climate outlook briefing this morning (March 21).

Drought is also expected to continue or worsen in much of the Southwest and central plains, Furgione said during the briefing. About 51 percent of the country is in moderate or worse drought, she added.

Drought, flooding, warmth

"We expect it to be drier than normal in much of the West, Rockies and Southwest, including Texas, which is unfortunate since we're looking at continued drought there," Furgione said.

At the same time, flooding is likely in various regions, with the most severe possibilities occurring in North Dakota along the Red River, she said. The upper and middle Mississippi River valley could see some flooding, worsened by melting of late season snow, she said.  

"This spring's outlook is a mixed bag of drought, flooding and warm weather," Furgione said.

The spring equinox, the official start to the season, happened yesterday (March 20) at 7:02 a.m. EDT (11:02 a.m. Universal Time). [Season to Season: Earth's Equinoxes & Solstices]

One factor in the season's outlook is the currently neutral El Niño-La Niña climate cycle. "It's about as neutral as I've ever seen it," said Ed O'Lenic, with NWS's Climate Prediction Center.

Severe weather, tornadoes

What the climate outlook means for this spring's tornado season is hard to say.

"Neutral conditions tend to favor slightly above-normal severe weather in the Midwest and South, but that becomes weaker as we move toward April and May," added Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the NWS's Storm Prediction Center, in a separate interview.

There have been a slightly above-average number of tornadoes so far this year, although that's not likely to continue over the next two weeks because of cold conditions — which don't favor twisters — throughout much of the Midwest and East, Carbin said.

Beyond two weeks, however, it's very difficult to tell whether there are likely to be above-  or below- average number of tornadoes. "It's not something the science is capable of giving us," Carbin told OurAmazingPlanet. 

However, it's "a given" there will be more tornadoes in April and May, because that's when there are more tornadoes on average, he said.

But the past is a poor indicator when it comes to tornadoes. Last year the tornado season was unusually active early in the year, before trailing off through the spring and summer; by year's end, there were fewer tornadoes than ever on record, Carbin said. This stood in contrast to the previous spring, which was a record-setting year for tornadoes and the deaths and damage they caused.

The continuing drought and likelihood of increasing temperatures could create fire hazards in the Southwest. Oklahoma has already seen wildfires break out, Furgione said. Dry conditions in Florida also have led to fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Email Douglas Main or follow him @Douglas_Main. Follow us @OAPlanet, Facebook or  Google+. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.