In terms of weather, 2012 was a year for the record books across the contiguous U.S. Today, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) officially classified 2012 as the warmest year on record across the Lower 48. 2012 wasn't just a record year, but a record year by a large margin to previous record years. Typically, when national temperatures records are set, it's by a few tenths of a degree. According to NCDC, 2012's average temperature across the Lower 48 was 55.3F, one full degree above the previous record set in 1998 and 3.2 degrees F above the 20th century average. 2012 was a year that consisted of a record warm spring, followed by the second warmest summer, a warmer than average autumn, and the fourth warmest winter. Below is a list of supporting highlights/facts from the record warm year:
- Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average annual temperature for 2012.
- 19 states had a record warm year and an additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest.
- Spring started off exceptionally warm with the warmest March on record, followed by the fourth warmest April and second warmest May.
- The season’s temperature was 5.2°F above average, making it easily the warmest spring on record, surpassing the previous record by 2.0°F.
- July with an average temperature of 76.9°F, 3.6°F above average, making it the hottest month ever observed for the contiguous United States.
- The eighth warmest June, record hottest July, and a warmer-than-average August resulted in a summer average temperature of 73.8°F, the second hottest summer on record by only hundredths of a degree.
- An estimated 99.1 million people experienced 10 or more days of summer temperatures greater than 100°F, nearly one-third of the nation’s population.
- As many as 356 all-time record high temperatures were set across the U.S. compared to only 4 all-time record lows.
The year 2012 was not just a historic year in terms of record warmth, but also in terms of extreme weather. According to the U.S. Climatic Extreme Index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998. Headlined by Superstorm Sandy and a historic drought, 2012 yielded 11 billion dollar weather/climate disaster events, second only to 2011 with 14. But despite the lower number of events, the economic losses from 2012 are expected to exceed 2011's tab, largely due to the massive economic toll caused by hurricane Sandy and the widespread drought. Some of the preliminary cost estimates from Sandy have exceeded 100 billion dollars, and estimates from the drought, which usually are the most expensive weather disasters, will likely be even higher. It is a year that is expected to be the second costliest only to 2005, when four hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina, made landfall along the Gulf coast. That year resulted in 187.2 billion dollars.
Of the 11 billion dollar weather events, seven were from severe thunderstorm outbreaks, two from hurricanes, the drought and wildfires. According to NOAA, the death toll from these events stand at 349 with 131 coming from Sandy and 123 coming from the summer long heat wave and drought. Below is a list of the eleven billion dollar weather events:
- Southeast/Ohio Valley Tornadoes — March 2–3 2012
- Texas Tornadoes — April 2–3 2012
- Great Plains Tornadoes — April 13–14 2012
- Midwest/Ohio Valley Severe Weather — April 28–May 1 2012
- Southern Plains/Midwest/Northeast Severe Weather — May 25–30 2012
- Rockies/Southwest Severe Weather — June 6–12 2012
- Plains/East/Northeast Severe Weather (“Derecho”) — June 29–July 2 2012
- Hurricane Isaac — August 26–31 2012
- Western Wildfires — Summer–Fall, 2012
- Hurricane Sandy — October 29–31 2012
- U.S. Drought/Heatwave — throughout 2012
Although 2012 is likely to exceed the losses incurred last year, more people were killed by extreme weather and climate events in 2011 than in 2012. That is largely due to the devastating tornado season last year, when 551 people lost their lives, the highest death toll since reliable records began in 1950. The year 2012, in contrast, had a very quiet 2011 tornado season and thus a lower fatality number.
Studies show that global warming and climate change has an impact on extreme weather events but its not certain to what extent. There are other factors to include such as socioeconomic trends such as a growing population and urbanization that exposes more people and infrastructure to extreme weather events.
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