Consumer confidence surged this month to its highest level in more than six years as the economy showed signs of emerging from a deep winter chill.
The Conference Board's index, which is one of two key monthly measures of consumer attitudes, increased to 82.3 in March from 78.3 the previous month, the business group said Tuesday.
Economists had expected a slight increase after a drop in confidence in February. Instead, the index jumped to its best reading since January 2008, in the early days of the Great Recession.
"An improvement in weather may be lifting consumers' spirits," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at brokerage Sterne Agee.
Bitter cold and snow in much of the country had been blamed for some weak econmomic data during the winter, so it made sense that warmer weather would lead to some improvement, she said.
The jump in consumer confidence came because of a big improvement in views about the short-term outlook for the economy, the Conference Board said.
"Overall, consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead," said Lynn Franco, the group's director of economic indicators.
Consumers were more optimistic that business conditions and the labor market would improve in the next six months. Their view of current economic conditions was about the same.
[Updated 12:18 p.m. PDT March 25: An earlier version of this post reported that consumer confidence increased in February. The increase was in March.]