Drought Drives 2012 Weather Memories

Drought Drives 2012 Weather Memories

Accuweather pulls together information showing 2012 left a lot of records in its wake.

As the New Year gets rolling, a little looking back remains in order especially from a weather perspective. The folks at Accuweather pulled together a big batch of data and reached the conclusion that 2012 was perhaps the warmest year on record for the United States.

HOT, DEFINITELY HOT: A bubble of hot, dry air clamped down on the U.S. in 2012, creating record heat and drought.

The drought that plagued crops all season actually got a "wind-up" in the previous winter as a fast storm track over northern Canada prevented cold air from reaching the U.S. very much. Brett Anderson, expert senior meteorologist, "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."

Less cold air meant less severe storms during the winter, and since many streams and rivers are fed by the melting of snow cover and the release of frozen water in the ground through the spring and early summer, trouble was already brewing.

The graphic on this page shows how the northern-focused jet-stream keep things warm in the U.S. as well. The rapidly drying landscape added heat fast and by mid-summer the Midwest was hit with 100-degree temperatures. That heat did help spike some severe storms, but also clamped down on development further into the summer.

Lack of those thunderstorms added drought insult to injury as the ground dried out. Dale Mohler, ag weather expert at Accuweather, notes that the thunderstorm complexes are a major source of rainfall during spring and summer. He adds that corn was hardest hit during the drought and even with a record number of acres planted, the shriveled crop produced less.

Dry streams and rivers
Of greater concern as 2013 dawns is how the drought impacted rivers and streams. Mississippi River levels were record high in 2011 and plunged to 50-year lows during the summer of 2012. And a lack of storms last fall kept compounding the problem, so much so that the river could be closed to navigation of deeper-draft barges as early as next week.

Looking ahead the Accuweather team, headed by Paul Pastelok, notes that "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."

Heat adds up
As the temperatures rose over parched ground last summer, Accuweather experts saw the chance that record heat was possible. Steven Root, president and CEO of Weatherbank, Inc., says 2012 "is set to be the warmest year on record in the United States and southern Canada since 1950."

Cooler conditions in November, nor cold temperatures as December wound down took 2012 out of the top spot.

 - This report was originally written by Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist for Accuweather.com.

Farmers weathering 2012 are learning plenty about everything from crop insurance to seed genetics as parched conditions reshape farm business across the country. Consider our 5-part approach to moving ahead after the toughest drought since the 1930s.

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