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2012 Extremes: A Year of Record Heat and Drought

Across the country, 22 record highs were broken, and no record lows reported
A runner passes a time and temperature sign in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, July 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

The "Heat and Drought of 2012" caused crops to wither and Mississippi River levels to plunge while yielding the warmest year on record for the U.S.

The year's average temperature in the United States has been measured at 54.5 degrees, breaking the previous 1921 record of 54.4 degrees. Across the country, 22 sites tied or broke their all-time high temperature records, while astonishingly, zero sites in the U.S. reported a record low temperature. It was, above all, a year of weather extremes.

The Setup

The drought and heat had their origins during the prior winter.

A fast storm track over northern Canada during the winter of 2011–2012 prevented cold air from making many visits into the U.S. and kept the frigid air locked up near the Arctic Circle.

According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "This pattern, in turn, resulted in mild Pacific air over much of the U.S. and southern Canada. Additionally, a lack of snow cover over southern Canada then allowed any air coming southward to further warm up before entering the U.S."

The lack of cold air in the U.S. then greatly limited the intensity of storms during the winter and influenced the form of precipitation.

Many stream and river systems are fed by the melting of snow cover and the release of frozen water in the ground through the spring and early summer.

Drought Begins, Heat Blossoms

The warm start to the spring allowed some crops to be planted early in the Midwest. However, the soil also dried out very quickly.

As the days lengthened and the angle of the sun increased, temperatures climbed much higher than average over the Midwest and occasionally spread into the East as a result of the dry landscape. Many cities over the middle of the nation had weeks of 100-degree temperatures. The quick warmup is why also severe weather season spiked very early and was extremely brief.

According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "We had a lack of large complexes of thunderstorms during the spring and summer over the Plains and Midwest."

Crops Shrivel

The thunderstorm complexes are a major source of rainfall during the spring and summer.
Mohler stated that corn was the hardest hit major crop during the drought and even though a record number of acres was planted the number of bushels per acre was down about 25 percent from what was originally anticipated.

"The heat and drought hit much of the corn belt during the critical pollination period for the crop." Mohler stated.

Soybeans were not hit as hard. This crop takes much longer to mature, and some rain came the rescue late in the period. However, yields were about 12 percent lower than originally expected.

Last year's winter wheat fared better. The wheat, which matured during the beginning of the summer of 2012, had only a minor negative impact due to the drought.

Streams Dry Up, Rivers Shrink

The excessive heat and drought not only resulted in reduced crop yields and brown pasture lands, but it also forced water restrictions in some communities.

Levels on the Mississippi River, which was near record high levels only a year earlier, plunged to 50-year lows during the summer of 2012.

These levels continued to dip during the autumn as the lack of storms with heavy precipitation continued.

During the summer and autumn, levels became so low that drudging operations on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers were stepped up to keep the shipping channel open. However, barge companies were still forced to lighten their loads to avoid running aground.

Concerns continue for possible closures along the waterway into this winter above where the Ohio River joins in. Most notably affecting the port of St. Louis.

According to AccuWeather.com's Long Range Team of meteorologists, headed by Paul Pastelok, "During this winter, rain and snow is projected to be adequate over the Ohio Basin but still may be low enough over the upper Mississippi River for concern with low water levels. Little rain and snow is projected over much of the Missouri Basin and other areas farther south over the Plains."

It will take more than one or two storms like that of the middle of December over the Plains and Upper Midwest to substantially turn things around over the upper Mississippi and Missouri valleys.

Steven A. Root, President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc., used hourly temperature data from 65 key cities in the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) and southern Canada to come up with the average annual temperatures (F) depicted in the graph.

Drought and Heat Extremes

For some areas of the Central states, this year will finish high on the list of driest years on record. In portions of Nebraska and Kansas, 2012 was the driest year dating back to the late 1800s in some cases.

It isn't so much individual cities that have record dryness, but more the number of locations that were abnormally dry throughout the nation. Only the Northwest and portions of the northern Gulf Coast were regions where rainfall was significantly above normal over a broad area.

Following the warmest first six months of the year and the hottest summer on record across the lower 48 states, it soon became apparent that 2012 in its entirety would be in the running for the hottest years on record.

According to Steven A. Root, President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc., "2012 is set to be the warmest year on record in the United States and southern Canada since 1950."

Not even cooler conditions during November, nor chill the last few day of December took 2012 out of the top spot. Unusual warmth occurred during much of December. Virtually every reporting site in the lower 48 states had temperatures averaging above normal during the first 20 days of the month.

Chicago and Rockford, Ill., as well as Muskegon and Grand Rapids, Mich., and Fresno, Calif., were among the locations that recorded their warmest year on record. Records in Chicago date back to 1872. During 2012, temperatures averaged 54.5 degrees, breaking the old record of 54.4 degrees set in 1921. In Fresno, the old record set during 1986 with 66.0 degrees was breached with 66.7 degrees set in 2012. Records in Fresno date back through the early 1900s.

Other cities that had or tied their warmest year on record include: New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012


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you forget to mention the 59 degre average SUMMER in Europe!

January 08 2013 at 5:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yet, today an article was publish from the leading scientist on global warming and it stated that after the Annual Global Climate conference...whatever that is...... the consense is that NO global Warming has occurred in over 12 years..... So, who is right? the scientist or the Left wing nuts?

January 08 2013 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Frankie Baby

And Felix's award .... Biggest Cajones EVER !!!!!

January 07 2013 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another Man Made Global Warming scare. The world has been getting colder for the last 16 years. Do a little research.

January 07 2013 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It would be easy to criticize this report if you don't understand the planet's vective air currents and how they effect one continent (US) and opposing effects on another (Europe and Asia). Overall, the planet is warming, whether you believe it is a natural cycle or due to human activity -- or a combination of both.
50,000,000 tons of CO2 every year from petroleum usage cannot be ignored. Humanity has done nothing but destroy the critical ecological balance of this planet. Trees that once filtered CO2, converting it to oxygen, are being cut down at an alarming rate just to satiate human needs. It cannot continue. For those who defend humanity, I challenge to offer just one benefit humans have made to the environment, not including efforts to repair destruction already done. This planet WILL heal itself, with, or without humans

January 07 2013 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ebneila's comment

Believe what you want, however these trees you say are cut down are true, what you don't say is we have Globally planted three times more trees than were originally here. The US in general has gotten cleaner over the years, look at the Ohio River and Lake Erie, the pollution in CA and other water ways.

January 08 2013 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

oh yee of little belief...just wait.

January 07 2013 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The report summarises one years trend on one continent. It's never going to fix stoopid

January 07 2013 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So, the record warmth was just in the US. No accounting for other countries, what a scam.

January 07 2013 at 2:33 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The report just seems to be stating the facts. The readers can draw their own conclusions.

January 07 2013 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

sooo you luddities think ALL the scientists are in this together...next thing they'll be telling us the earth is round, right?

January 07 2013 at 1:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
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