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Looking long-term: What the latest weather outlook for March doesn't tell you

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Though warm for the last week of February, Mother Nature may flip the script for the month of March. The latest outlook from the Climate Prediction Center reveals much of the Deep South having a shot at seeing below normal temperatures.

If you put a number on it, southeast Louisiana has roughly a 45% chance of seeing temperatures below average for the month of March. While these odds might appear worse than flipping a coin, that isn’t necessarily the case. To see why, we need to separate temperatures into three groups – below average, near average, and above average.

Meteorologists and climatologists refer to these categories as terciles. With a 45% chance of seeing below average temperatures, the other 55% must be divided between the near and above average terciles. We find that the chance of being below average dominates over the other categories after doing so. In fact, the chance of seeing above average temperatures is slim.

It’s not perfect, and we do play a game a chance to some extent. However, this is the best tool we have to see how conditions might shape up beyond the next seven days.

These forecasts do come with some caveats. Even if this upcoming March ends up cooler than normal, it does NOT mean that there won’t be any warm spells. It doesn’t guarantee that the month will be bitterly cold either. Rather, the 45% chance of below normal temperatures means that the average high/low from March 1-31 is favored to be less than the average monthly temperature of 62°.

Forecasters must take several factors into account when making monthly forecast, a few of which are: El Niño/La Niña, Ocean Currents, Oceanic Heat Content, Soil Moisture, Health of Vegetation, Snowpack/Snowmelt, and Sea Ice.

Another factor to consider is the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). The MJO at its simplest level is a traveling package of enhanced/suppressed tropical rainfall. These regions of rainfall or lack thereof move eastward across the globe. Unlike the weather which can be predicted up to seven days, the MJO can be predicted 2-3 weeks in advance.

The MJO has been active in the last several weeks. A region of enhanced storminess associated with the MJO appears to push closer to the Indian Ocean in the next few weeks. For this reason, southern Louisiana is forecast to have a potentially cooler than normal March.

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