2012 Officially Hottest Year on Record

Washington, DC (January 8, 2103) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared 2012 the warmest and second most extreme on record for the contiguous U.S. This included drought, wildfires, hurricanes, and storms—super and otherwise. The average temperature for 2012 was 3.2°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year. It was also the 15th driest year on record, with a drought that reached its peak in July engulfing 61% of the nation. What did this mean for trees?

A warm spring resulted in an early start to the 2012 growing season in many places, which increased the loss of water from the soil earlier than what is typical. In combination with the lack of winter snow and residual dryness from 2011, the record warm spring laid the foundation for widespread drought conditions in large areas of the U.S. during 2012.

Dry conditions in the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres—the third highest on record. The drought also proved fatal to many urban trees especially in the Midwest where watering became critical to saving the canopy in some cities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared a total of 1,234, out of 3033, counties to be disaster areas as a result of the drought.

Prolonged periods of stress slowed and reduced tree growth, and also made them much more susceptible to disease. In some cases, young, parched trees didn’t make it. For example, Kansas City lost about 7,000 trees in 2012—up about 30% from the previous year. Some estimated the cost to Kansas and Missouri was a combined one billion trees. In Texas the drought stretched in to its second year, with trees taking a heavy toll. Read more here  and here.

2012 also saw 11 disasters that reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, including Sandy, Isaac, and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas, and Southeast/Ohio Valley. Isaac and Sandy made landfall along the U.S. coast during 2012 causing significant impacts, especially in the Northeast. New York City lost about 10,000 trees, and New Jersey reported an estimated 400,000 destroyed or damaged trees. Read more.

As the effects of global climate change, including higher temperatures and more extreme weather, are predicted to continue, urban forests are both vulnerable as well as critical to cities. Looking to make urban areas more resilient to weather-related changes and events, trees are likely to place a central role toward mitigating urban heat islands and lowering energy costs, helping to manage stormwater, absorbing carbon, cleaning the air, and proving essential to preparing for the future.

Related Resources
2012 was warmest and second most extreme year on record for the contiguous U.S.
Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S.
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From Corn Belt To Main Street: The Drought’s Far-Reaching Grasp