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Weather Outlook for Start to the 2021 MLB Season

Some Teams Have a Big Adjustment to Make

The weather outlook for the start to the 2021 MLB season shows that some major league teams have a big adjustment to make as they head north.  Baseball teams leave the frigid north in mid-February to train in pleasantly warm conditions and then sometimes flee the increasing early spring heat at the end of March to go north and play in….winter-like conditions!  I recently wrote about this cold spring trend and looked at the April weather in the Northeast US when no regular-season games were played in the spring of 2020.  There were several recent years when players and coaches alike probably wished they could have stayed in Florida or Arizona one more month. 

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For some that extended stay in the tropics is actually going to happen this season, not for any climatologically-inspired reason, but rather due to the pandemic.   The Toronto Blue Jays and opposing teams cannot easily cross the US-Canadian border so the Blue Jays will play their first several home series at their Florida spring training stadium.  Many minor-league players also get to escape any April chill by virtue of league-wide scheduling.  All the minor league teams that historically started in early April now have their seasons pushed back until the first week of May.  The majority of players for those teams will have spring training during April at the facilities about to be vacated by the major leaguers.

How Warm Has it Been?

The teams playing in Florida have enjoyed consistently warm weather.  Most of the month of March averaged close to normal at places like Fort Myers (home of the Twins and Red Sox) with about half the days reaching highs in the 70s and the other half in the low to middle 80s.  Then it became hot with highs in the upper 80s and lower 90s beginning on the 25th.  These temperatures are about ten degrees above normal and close to late March records. 

Map of Grapefruit League team locations in Florida.
This map shows the locations of the 15 Grapefruit League teams. Source = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapefruit_League

Teams such as the Yankees (hosting Blue Jays), the Tigers (hosting the Indians) and Phillies (welcoming the Braves) have been playing in the Florida heat but could have highs as cold as the upper 30s and 40s for the first game of the regular season along with plenty of clouds and chilly winds. The Reds, whose spring training home is in Arizona, did see stretches of cooler than normal March weather there (seven days in Phoenix failed to reach 70) but opening day in Cincinnati could be 25 degrees colder than the coolest day during the Cactus League schedule.   The East Coast and eastern Midwest may have some lingering showers on opening day, otherwise a generally dry pattern with a warming trend will cover much of the Nation during the first week of April.  If all opening games are played as scheduled this will be the first season since 1968 that every team opens the regular season on the same date! 

Some Teams Consigned to Stay up North

Having become acclimated to summerlike spring training weather, some teams are consigned by the schedule maker to stay up north for most of April.  Once the season starts, they don’t see much early action outside the northern tier of states.  For example, the Yankees have twenty of their 27 April games in cold-weather cities – either at home, in Cleveland, or Baltimore – interrupted only by games back in Florida during week two of the season.   Even more notable, Boston plays all twenty-five of its games in the first four weeks of the season either at home or in other northern cities such as New York, Minneapolis, or Baltimore before ending the month with two games in Texas.  These teams would really benefit from a milder and drier April pattern, avoiding a backlog of games to be made up during the warmer months of the year.

Trends into May – Baseball-Friendly Weather to the South and West

The general forecast trends for April into May are suggesting baseball-friendly (warmer than normal) weather for much of the Nation in the month of April (see the NOAA outlook map below).  That would mean lots of days in the upper 60s and 70s for cities like Kansas City, Chicago, and even Minneapolis. 

Mid-April 2021 temperature outlook map for the US.
This NOAA/NCEI temperature outlook for mid-April suggests there could be widespread temperatures more typical of May! Source = cpc.ncep.noaa.gov

Some more refined outlooks from private forecasters show that New England and the mid-Atlantic states have lower confidence on a lasting warmup and could even average cooler than normal overall for the month of April.  That would mean daytime highs frequently back in the 40s and 50s.  Combine that with some night games on the schedule and a potentially more showery pattern in the Northeast and it may not seem much like spring at times.  The month of May brings the higher chances of above normal rainfall in the Northeast and more likely near to below normal rainfall across the Midwest and Western states.

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