March is usually a month when much of the country is still running heaters instead of air conditioners — until this year.

Last month is now in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) record books as the warmest March ever in the United States since the federal agency began tracking such things in 1895.

Warm-weather temperatures in March broke more than 15,000 records and likely contributed to the 223 tornadoes reported during the month — almost three times the normal average. Those storms killed 40 people and caused $1.5 billion in damage, making it the first billion-dollar disaster of 2012.

What’s more, the three-month period of January, February and March was the warmest first quarter ever recorded in the continental US, with the average temperature of 42 degrees Fahrenheit a full six degrees above the long-term average.

Chris Vaccaro, spokesperson for NOAA, called the spate of warm temperatures “tremendously excessive” and “really unprecedented.” That said, the phenomenon didn’t extend worldwide — other parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, suffered colder-than-average temperatures this winter.


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