March 2020 will go down in infamy as the month where life in the U.S. was changed forever as the global pandemic reached our shores. The one thing that didn't change this month was the ongoing warmer temperature trends as this was the fifth month in a row where temperatures trended warmer than last year for the U.S. as a whole. While the pandemic has greatly altered how we conduct business, weather remains a critical piece of the puzzle in understanding consumer behavior and forecasting seasonal merchandise sales.


TEMPERATURE TRENDS


The retail March 2020 calendar (March 01-April 04) was the 4th warmest March in 29+ years for the U.S. as a whole. The Central and Eastern U.S. enjoyed the warmest temperature trends as this March was the warmest in at least 4 years across these regions. March started off much differently than last year when a spell of cold, Arctic air began the month. This year, temperatures were much warmer than both last year and normal, in fact, the first week of March trended as the 3rd warmest in 29+ years for the U.S. as a whole.

March2020TemperatureTrendChart

While the eastern half of the U.S. maintained warmer trends throughout March, the West turned colder by the middle of March. Colder weather continued through the end of the retail March 2020 in the West. For March 2020 as a whole, this was the 7th coldest March in 29+ years and the coldest in 8 years on the West Coast.


SEVERE WEATHER/PRECIPITATION TRENDS


A wet weather pattern continued in the South as we headed into the retail March 2020 calendar. A slow-moving storm system early in March caused flooding and spawned severe weather. This storm system produced several tornadoes in Tennessee including an EF-3 tornado with estimated maximum winds of 165 mph that touched down in Nashville, TN killing 5 people and injuring over 200, according to the National Weather Service.

NashvilleTornadoOutbreakMarch2020

While the Nashville tornado was deadly and destructive, the total severe weather count for the month as a whole indicates that March 2020 was less active than last year. Of course, it only takes one destructive storm in a populated area to have a big impact.

2003_map_all

The middle of the month was unsettled in the Southwest, and March 2020 ended up being the 6th wettest March in 29+ years for the region. Meanwhile, the Northwest saw the 4th driest retail March in 29+ years.


SNOWFALL TRENDS


March 2020 saw the least amount of snow for a retail March calendar in 10 years for the U.S. as a whole. The biggest declines year-on-year were in the South and Northeast. In fact, seasonal snowfall for the 2019/2020 season was among the lowest on record for many locations in the Northeast. For Pennsylvania's capital, Harrisburg, seasonal snowfall was only about 16% of average with a pitiful 5.1'' of snow recorded for the season. No snow accumulated during the month of March in Harrisburg.

HarrisburgSeasonSnowTrend

The Rocky Mountains and mountains of the West saw the greatest increase in snowfall this March as this was the snowiest March in at least 3 years for the region. Although even here, seasonal snowfall was less than last year.


BUSINESS IMPACTS


The much warmer start to March should have gotten things off to a healthy start for seasonal spring merchandise sales across the nation. While warmer temperatures continued in the eastern half of the U.S. through the rest of the month, the impacts of COVID-19 started to take over and consumers were distracted by adjusting to a "new normal". The expanding pandemic in addition to colder trends did few favors for retail sales in the West.

Despite the onset of business restrictions and consumers increasingly spending more time at home, weather continues to be of monumental importance in guiding consumer behavior. While store traffic has been artificially altered, the weather still has persuasive power when a consumer is deciding to buy grilling foods or soup; or whether to buy sun care or body lotions; or even spurring consumers to seek out sandals and shorts, albeit largely online. Lawn and garden categories are heavily influenced by weather, and with more consumers spending time at home and working on garden projects as spring breathes life back into vegetation, it is likely that this sector of the retail business will have seen some major moves, especially in a warmer and drier East.


SUMMARY


From a weather perspective, a favorable March 2020 in the eastern half of the U.S. with warmer and drier weather. In the West, a favorable start to March gave way to much less desirable weather for seasonal merchandise sales in the second half of the month. With the global pandemic reaching the shores of the United States, retail was sent for a tailspin. Despite this disruption, weather continues to be a large influencer of retail sales.