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Why was March so cold? Blame Greenland.

You're not imagining it: March 2013 was chilly — the second-coldest March since 2000. The culprit is a stubborn mass of warm air over Greenland that blocked the jet stream.

By Douglas MainOur Amazing Planet / April 2, 2013

This NOAA satellite image taken March 28 shows the stationary air mass over Greenland and the North Atlantic that kept March so chilly for most of the continental US.

Weather Underground / AP

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Although spring has arrived, it may not feel that way for many in the United States and Canada who have had to put up with unusually cold temperatures.

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Last month was a chilly one, ranking as the second-coldest March in the continental United States since 2000, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The average temperature across the United States this March was also 13 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius) lower than in March 2012, and a late-winter blizzard broke snowfall records in many areas.

So, why has it been so cold?

The culprit is a stubborn, stationary mass of warm air over Greenland and the North Atlantic that has blocked the normal flow of air from west to east and south to north, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the NWS' Storm Prediction Center. This flow of air, known as the jet stream, usually brings more warm air from the South as the Northern Hemisphere begins to heat up in the spring.

Obstinate air masses

This March, however, the mass of warm air — a high-pressure system that repels incoming weather systems — has redirected air currents and created a pattern of winds coming from the Northwest, blasting the eastern two-thirds of the United States with Arctic air, Carbin said.

"This obstinate mass of warm air over Greenland has redirected air currents like a rock in a stream," Carbin said.

However, the spring season hasn't been cold everywhere. In fact, the southwestern United States has been warmer than average, as the region has been unaffected by the blocking system in the North Atlantic, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and science writer with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Due, in part, to the cold, there have been fewer than 20 tornadoes in the United States this March, Carbin said. On average, March will see 76 twisters across the United States. Tornadoes depend on warm, moist air, which was scarce this past March, Carbin added. 

Climate change?

Some research has suggested a link between a retreat of Arctic sea ice in a warming world and these high-pressure blocking systems, Carbin said.

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