2012 Is The Hottest, Most Extreme Year In U.S. History

Very warm November and early December assures record-breaking 2012

A warm November and record-breaking early December means 2012 will be the warmest year ever for the U.S. As Jeff Masters reports:

…the U.S. heated up considerably in November, notching its 20th warmest November since 1895, said NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in their latest State of the Climate report. The warm November virtually assures that 2012 will be the warmest year on record in the U.S. The year-to-date period of January – November has been by far the warmest such period on record for the contiguous U.S.–a remarkable 1.0°F above the previous record. During the 11-month period, 18 states were record warm and an additional 24 states were top ten warm. The December 2011 – November 2012 period was the warmest such 12-month period on record for the contiguous U.S., and the eight warmest 12-month periods since record keeping began in 1895 have all ended during 2012.

December 2012 would have to be 1°F colder than our coldest December on record (set in 1983) to prevent the year 2012 from being the warmest in U.S. history. This is meteorologically impossible, given the recent December heat in the U.S. As wunderground’s weather historian Christopher C. Burt reported, an early-December heat wave this week set records for warmest December temperature on record in seven states. December 2012 is on pace to be a top-20% warmest December on record in the U.S.

The NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index (CEI), which “tracks the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% and bottom-10% extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought,” reports it has also been the most extreme January to November period on record. Some 46% of the continental U.S. saw top-10% extreme weather, which is more than double the average:

As Masters explains:

A record 86% of the contiguous U.S. had maximum temperatures that were in the warmest 10% historically during the first eleven months of 2012, and 71% of the U.S. of the U.S. had warm minimum temperatures in the top 10%–2nd highest on record. The percentage area of the U.S. experiencing top-10% drought conditions was 32%, which was the 4th greatest since 1910. Only droughts in the Dust Bowl year of 1934, and during 1954 and 1956, were more extreme for the January – November period. Heavy 1-day downpours have been below average so far in 2012, though, with 9% of nation experiencing a top-10% extreme, compared to the average of 10%.

Again, given the record-smashing temperatures in early December, 2012 also seems likely to set the extreme weather record.

Finally, recent NOAA reports make clear that much more record-breaking extreme weather is in our near future:

20 Responses to 2012 Is The Hottest, Most Extreme Year In U.S. History

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Only a technological (update) revolution can help us to prevent worst case scenarios at this point. Litteraly everything which has been predicted decades ago either happened or turned out to be an underestimation!

    How much longer do we want to wait before we start with REAL change? Further this industrial revolution 2.0 will have a hard time in our world devided by 99% have nots and 1% who amass most powers. Because poor peopel can not easily afford, let alone think about issues like this, while busy finding food for the next week/month.

    We are on the brink to collapse!

  2. Nell says:

    Isn’t it likely that in the near future we’ll experience concurrent Sandy-like events that overwhelm FEMA? Not because of ineptitude like Katrina, but because there are not enough resources?

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Hang onto our hats.

    The Climate Prediction Center is showing a warm droughty winter ahead for most of the lower 48 states, but the next 3-7 days might be unseasonably cold on the Great Plains, in contrast to the overall trend.

    Let’s brace ourselves for a blast of chilly denialism from the heartland.

  4. Chris says:

    Looking forward to how this winter pans out. It’ll be interesting to see if we get anywhere near a repeat of out summer in March heatwave.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Nasa scientist’s study quantifies climate change link to extreme weather

    Study uses recorded temperature data, rather than prediction models, to assert climate change’s impact on recent weather

  6. Michael T says:

    Globally it was also warm last month as NASA data shows November was the 2nd warmest November on record:

    Most areas were much warmer than average, with the exceptions of Alaska, Eastern U.S., New Zealand, part of Russia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

  7. Mark E says:

    Looks like we are in the middle of it right now…. how long can recent temp and precip patterns last before the US has big problems feeding its own population ? Sandy was nothing compared to suburban families starting to shoot their dogs for supper.

  8. Wes says:

    Just like Thelma and Louise we can drive off the edge of the Grand Canyon, and for the first couple of thousand feet it seems that the dangers have wildly exaggerated. The USA is in that kind of free fall now, and only the scientists seem to be aware of it. But every day a few more things become irreversible.

  9. NY Skiwolf says:

    Oil Companies celebrate as sea ice melts allowing more drilling of carbon based energy in the arctic !

    Nuclear Now !

  10. John McCormick says:

    Joan, what stage is the winter wheat crop in the upper midwest. Green shoots without a snow blanket is disaster for next year’s winter wheat harvest. Can you give us an update? Thank you.

  11. debu says:

    “Nuclear Now!”!!??

    One year and nine months since the Fukushima meltdowns and it is forgotten already by some.

    Only those who have no knowledge of life on the ground now in the affected areas could hold such views.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    John, I’m truly flattered but I didn’t have research on that topic already on file.

    Much of winter wheat has already had a difficult time due to drought and high wind damage.

    For more reading:
    US winter wheat makes worst start on record–5165.html

    –The extent of wind damage can be partly associated with lack of soil moisture.
    –Some of the winter wheat in Ohio has come out of drought thanks to recent rain.
    –The old farmer’s adage that snow is a poor man’s fertilizer has several adaptations. Snow cover would help retain soil moisture, but many locales are in drought.

    In January 2012 there was little snow cover for winter wheat, so we can look afresh at a fact sheet published at that time by South Dakota State University Extension Program. The fact sheet identifies soil moisture as a key to wheat survival during winter dormancy.

    I’m not an agronomist by profession, so perhaps there are other insights to be brought forth.

  13. Artful Dodger says:

    I wonder if these temperatures have been corrected for the effects of ENSO? Recall that the 1998 record occurred during a strong el Nino. In contrast, 2012’s new record occurred during the cool phase of ENSO, the la Nina.

    It may be the the true record is much more than 1.0 F greater than the old record.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    One category of extremes that could be added are stream flows.

    It is easy to spot-check as many of those recordings are tracked in real-time by the US Geological Survey.

    Yesterday and today, numerous streams in the Ohio River watershed have had flows above 75th percentile, and some are setting new daily records today. These area found in Kentucky-Ohio-western Pennsylvania and southwestern New York on the USGS map.

  15. Joan Savage says:

    The SDSU fact sheet also identifies wind erosion as major threat to winter wheat.

  16. John McCormick says:

    Joan thank you for that tip. I hadn’t considered uncovered topsoil blowing against the wheat shoots. Double hit.

    We are on the verge of serious food shortages in vulnerable regions of the world.

  17. Bruce S says:

    What if the drought continued and Obama were forced to divert part of the corn harvest headed to ethanol. What if problems with shipping on the Mississippi further raised corn prices but farmers were forced to cover additional shipping costs. What if the costs of pumping water, shipping and idled cropland resulted in fewer farmers when we might need them. Are Americans willing to spend more on groceries. Add question marks where needed.

  18. Superman1 says:


    I have known two people who were diagnosed with lung cancer, and each had a lobe resected. Both were in their 40s (one low, one high), and this occurred decades after the Surgeon General’s Report. Both resumed smoking within weeks of their surgery, and both are no longer with us.

    There is a wide gap between knowing and doing! Please don’t make the assumption that people are using fossil fuels only because they don’t know about the potential impacts, and if they were suddenly enlightened, they would immediately change their behavior. I know many people who understand the impacts only too well, and they do nothing about it.

    Your last sentence is incorrect. The collapse has already occurred, but there is a time lag until we experience the real effects.

  19. pat holman says:

    how long?…last I heard from NOAA by 2035 life as we know it will be unsustainable..and that figure (was originally forecast to be the end of the century)was woefully underestimated.

  20. Dennis Fletcher says:

    I got a solution. Nuke em all, make a parking lot out Saudi Arabia. Then let’s negotiate.