Temperatures soared to record highs for a second day Saturday from the Plains to the East Coast and people shucked winter clothing to flock to zoos and golf courses and check out the inventory at garden supply stores.
"The woodchuck is out. The mourning cloak--our earliest butterfly--is out, and I saw two bluebirds yesterday," said Megan Strike, a naturalist at Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake, Minn., outside St. Paul. "I've never seen a winter like this. Ever."
But cold air was bullying its way into the Great Plains from Canada, with snow expected during the night in Montana. And for those who took advantage of college spring breaks to head for sunny Florida, heavy rain and wind up to 50 m.p.h. blasted across the beaches and tornado watches were issued.
After Friday's record highs in 28 cities and a mild night, thermometers popped to record highs in the 60s by mid-morning Saturday from South Dakota and Nebraska into Illinois.
Rockford, Ill., hit a record 57 in the morning and rose to 67 in the afternoon, and Duluth, Minn., on chilly Lake Superior, passed its previous morning record of 50 and warmed to 69. As far north as Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., it was a record 54, compared to only 3 degrees one year earlier.
During the afternoon, the National Weather Service reported record highs for at least 39 cities. La Crosse, Wis., hit 71, erasing a record of 57 that had stood since 1878. Far to the east, Wilmington, Del., posted a record 72.
Sioux Falls, S.D., forgot winter's fury with a high of 78, the warmest on record there for so early in the year. It was also the warmest for so early in the year at Minneapolis, where a reading of 73 wiped off the previous record for the date of 59, set in 1898.
The warm weather also prompted a change in business practices.
Displays of seeds, fertilizer and garden tools replaced snow blowers and shovels in the windows of Iowa hardware stores.
"We only sold two or three snow blowers and about two dozen snow shovels this year," said Robert Hobbs, manager of a nursery and garden center in Des Moines.
Iowa is experiencing its warmest winter in 50 years, and the fifth-warmest on record, said state climatologist Paul Waite.
Visitors Flock to Zoo
At the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich., about 600 people went through the gates in the first 1 1/2 hours Saturday, compared to 500 for the entire first weekend of March last year, spokeswoman Ann Schuneman said.
And then there were golfers.
"The spring birds are out today. We'd put 850 out on the courses by noon, so we'll probably end up with over 1,000," said Bob Roehl, manager of a golf complex in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights.