Report: 2012 was hottest year on record
2012 is officially the hottest year on record for the United States.
There's a new report that says every state in the country saw above-average temperatures last year. Nineteen states set record highs of their own.
2012 was the second-worst year for extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and "Superstorm" Sandy.
The country faced 11 major weather disasters that each topped $1 billion in losses. Seven of the ten hottest years in US records have occurred since 1990.
Meantime, the insurance giant Munich RE reports that natural disasters cost a total of $160 billion around the world in 2012. Sandy was a big part of that cost in the northeast. In the Midwest, including Indiana, it was drought.
"It is part of a long-term warming trend and that is associated with climate change. It's hard to pinpoint what percentage climate change had of a role in the 2012 temperatures, but it did have a role," said Jake Crouch, NOAA National Climactic Data Center.
Under normal conditions we should see one record high for every record low, but in the first decade of this century we saw two record highs for each record low. In 2011 it was 3-1 and in 2012, 5-1.
In 2012 much of the country sweltered.
"One out of every three Americans had at least ten days when they had to deal with temperatures at or above 100 degrees. That's a lot of heat," said Jim Cantore, Weather Channel.
All that heat plus a lack of rain and snowfall created a historic drought that still grips well over half of the country today, making the Mississippi River less than mighty - so shallow in places barge traffic could come to halt and there's little relief in sight.
"I think that we're looking at some very risky situations for the middle of the country for the coming year, the persistence of the drought is a real concern," said Chris Field, Director of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution.
Extreme weather caused extreme hardship with 11 disasters topping $1 billion in losses that include homes, livelihoods and lives. 125 people were killed in Superstorm Sandy alone.
It's not just the United States. This week, triple-digit temperatures fueled catastrophic wildfires across southeast Australia.
In Chicago, which is normally snow-covered in January, today tied the record for the most days without at least an inch of snow: 319.
Other findings from the report:
On the national scale, 2012 started off much warmer than average with the fourth warmest winter (December 2011-February 2012) on record. Winter warmth limited snow with many locations experiencing near-record low snowfall totals. The winter snow cover for the contiguous U.S. was the third smallest on record and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies were less than half of normal.
The nationally-averaged precipitation total of 26.57 inches was 2.57 inches below average and the 15th driest year on record for the lower 48. This was also the driest year for the nation since 1988 when 25.25 inches of precipitation was observed.
Tropical cyclone activity across the North Atlantic in 2012 as above-average with 19 named storms, ten hurricanes, and one major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger). This is the third consecutive North Atlantic tropical cyclone season with 19 named storms and ties with as the third most active season for the basin. Isaac and Sandy made landfall along the U.S. coast during 2012 causing significant impacts. Isaac brought large storm surge and torrential rains to the Gulf Coast. Sandy caused significant damage to the Northeast, with 8 million homes losing power and 131 fatalities reported.
The widespread drought conditions of 2012 peaked in July with approximately 61 percent of the country experiencing drought conditions. The footprint of drought during 2012 roughly equaled the drought of the 1950s which peaked at approximately 60 percent. The size of the current drought and the drought of the 1950s are smaller than the drought episodes of the 1930s. The current drought has yet to reach the intensity or duration of the 1950s and 1930s national-scale droughts.
Wildfire activity during 2012 was above-average with 9.2 million acres burned, the third most in the 13-year record. Numerous large and destructive wildfires impacted the western U.S. throughout the year. The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado destroyed nearly 350 homes and was the most destructive fire on record for the state. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire charred nearly 300,000 acres and was the largest on record for New Mexico.
Tornado activity during 2012 was below the 1991-2010 average of approximately 1,200. The year got off to a busy start with large tornado outbreaks in March and April causing significant damage in the Ohio Valley and Central Plains. May and June, typically the most active tornado months of the year, both had less than half of average tornado counts. The final 2012 tornado count will likely be less than 1,000 - the least since 2002.