Hot and dry: 2012 one for the record books

Like farmers across the Midwest, many farmers in southwest Nebraska struggled to raise a corn crop. This field, seen in a July 2012 file photo, produced little. (Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)

Farmers and ranchers across the Midwest will remember 2012 for a long time, thanks mostly to the devastating drought that crippled crop and livestock production throughout much of the region. It turns out, it was hot and dry all over the country – historically so.

2012 was the hottest on record for the entire continental U.S., according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3 degrees, more than 3 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

And NOAA says 2012 was the country’s 15th driest year on record, with a 26.57 average precipitation total. At its peak, the drought choked 61 percent of the country.

Climate change may be at the heart of the extreme weather, according to The Washington Post:

Federal scientists said that the data were compelling evidence that climate change is affecting weather in the United States and suggest that the nation’s weather is likely to be hotter, drier and potentially more extreme than it would have been without the warmer temperatures.

Last year’s record temperature is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Americans can now see the sustained warmth over the course of their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before.” He added, “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.”

All over the country people are talking about the drought of 2012. The thing is, it’s not over. And for farmers and ranchers, who make their living off the land, that’s scary. Winter wheat farmers, who already have their crop in the ground, told Harvest Public Media’s Grant Gerlock that they need significant snowfall or rain soon or their harvest will be the latest to succumb to the drought.

Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told Gerlock farmers could be in dire straits.

“This year, when we’re already behind the eight-ball when you look at the moisture situation, we’ll be living rain to rain much earlier unless we get a huge spring,” Svoboda said.

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