Its official! 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, the average temperature for the country was 55.3°F, which is 3.2°F above the long-term norm. It is also a full 1°F above the old record set in 1998. While a single degree may not sound like much, it is actually a large departure. Records usually only differ by a tenth of a degree.
As hot as it was last year, this new record does not come as much of a surprise. 2012 brought the United States a record warm spring in addition to its fourth warmest winter, third warmest summer, and an above average autumn.
In terms of precipitation, 2012 was the 15th driest year on record in this country. The average precipitation total for the lower forty-eight states was 26.57 inches, which is 2.57 below normal. This lack of rain brought on the worst drought this nation has seen in more than fifty years. The dry conditions, in turn, helped fuel a destructive wildfire season. More than nine million acres were charred nationwide this year – the third largest area on record.
While high temperatures and low precipitation dominated, 2012 was also a year of severe weather. According to the US Climate Extremes Index, 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for this country. As a whole, the nation experienced eleven natural disasters that each caused at least one billion dollars worth of damage. These events included hurricanes Sandy and Isaac as well as several tornado outbreaks in the south and mid-west. What a year!