New York – In 2012, there were at least 3,527 monthly weather records for heat, rain and snow broken by extreme weather events that hit communities throughout the U.S., according to an updated interactive extreme weather mapping tool and year-end review released on January 15 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The 2012 tally exceeds the 3,251 records smashed in 2011 and catalogues these record-breaking extreme events in all 50 states.
New this year, the interactive map at www.nrdc.org/extremeweather also ranks all 50 states for the percentage of weather stations reporting at least one monthly heat record broken in 2012. The ten states showing the highest percentage with new heat records are: Tennessee (36%), Wisconsin (31%), Minnesota (30%), Illinois (29%), Indiana (28%), Nevada (27%), West Virginia (26%), Maine (26%), Colorado (25%), and Maryland (24%). Especially hard-hit regions include the Upper Midwest, Northeast, northern Great Plains, and Rocky Mountain states.
“2012’s unparalleled record-setting heat demonstrates what climate change looks like,” said Kim Knowlton, NRDC Senior Scientist. “This extreme weather has awoken communities across the country to the need for preparedness and protection. We know how to reduce local risks, improve our lives, and create more resilient communities. Now our leaders must act.”
Because these monthly weather records compete against prior records set over at least the last 30 years at each location, the 3,527 monthly records-broken highlight notable patterns of extreme weather in the U.S. And in fact, from 1980 through 2011, the frequency of weather-related extreme events in North America nearly quintupled, rising more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, according to international insurance giant Munich Re.
In 2012, Americans experienced the hottest March on record in the contiguous U.S., and July was the hottest single month ever recorded in the lower 48 states. As a whole, 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) “State of the Climate” Report released last week. NOAA has also estimated that 2012 will surpass 2011 in aggregate costs for U.S. annual billion-dollar disasters, and Munich Re also recently revealed that in 2012, more than 90 percent of the world’s insured disaster costs occurred in the US.
Some of 2012’s most significant weather disasters include:
- The summer of 2012 was the worst drought in 50 years across the nation’s bread-basket, with over 1,300 U.S. counties in 29 states declared drought disaster areas.
- Wildfires burned over 9.2 million acres in the U.S., and destroyed hundreds of homes. The average size of the fires set an all-time record of 165 acres per fire, exceeding the prior decade’s 2001-2010 average of approximately 90 acres per fire.
- Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge height, 13.88 feet, broke the all-time record in New York Harbour, and ravaged communities across New Jersey and New York with floodwaters and winds. The cost of Sandy reached an estimated $79 billion with at least 131 deaths reported.
There are proactive steps government decision-makers can take to minimize the impact on communities increasingly vulnerable to climate change. NRDC encourages all states to undertake the following key actions to protect public health:
- Enact plans to limit carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other major sources of heat-trapping pollution; coupled with increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- Emergency planning must incorporate risks from climate change. States and local governments should develop, prioritize, support and implement comprehensive climate change mitigation plans to address climate risks.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must also prioritize addressing and preparing for climate change by providing guidance and resources to state and local governments.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international non-profit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, their lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing.