A striking image of Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy approaches on Oct. 29, 2012.
Credit: Carlos Ayala
Drought, wildfire, hurricanes, a deadly typhoon and cold snap — this year had a lot to offer in terms of weather news.
Weather historian Christopher C. Burt, who blogs for the meteorological website Weather Underground, has been keeping tabs on events this year, and the headliner is clear, he said: Unusually warm temperatures, most notably across the continental United States.
We take a look back at the most significant weather of 2012:
Record-breaking warmth: The data for the last of the year isn't in yet, but this year looks "virtually certain" take the title of warmest year on record for the lower 48 states, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Burt follows temperature observations for 300 evenly disbursed U.S. cities or sites with records going back into the 19th century. Of these, 22 reached their all-time highs this year, most during the heat wave that hit much of the country in late June and early July. Only the Pacific Northwest did not share in this year's exceptional warmth, Burt said.
It was also a warm year for the planet, though not to quite the same degree. As of November, 2012 ranked as the eighth warmest for global average temperature, NOAA reported on Thursday (Dec. 20).
Burt also tracks temperatures for countries, and he noted all-time high records in July and August for five countries, three in Europe, one in Asia and one in Africa.
Summer in March: One notable heat wave this year hit the Great Lakes, Midwest, northern New England, New Brunswick and Novia Scotia in March, bringing scores of record-breaking temperatures for this time of year. In "The Nation's Icebox," International Falls, Mich., the low temperature during this heat wave — which bottomed out at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 degrees Celsius) on March 20 — tied the previous high for that date, according to the Weather Underground.
Hottest month on record in the U.S.: Until this year, July 1936, during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, held the record for hottest month on record in the lower 48 states going back to 1895, but this July's heat surpassed even that record, surprising Burt, who told LiveScience in July, "1936 is probably unassailable frankly."
Drought: The unusually warm weather contributed to drought across much of the country this year, in some places, such as Texas, for the second consecutive year. While devastating, particularly to agriculture, this year's drought has not been unprecedented. It is the most extensive since the 1930s, affecting over half of the country for a majority of the year, NOAA reported on Dec. 20. [Dried Up: Photos Reveal Devastating Texas Drought]
A fiery year: In turn, drought and heat this year contributed to the third worst wildfire season for the western United States, where more than 9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) burned. Colorado and Oregon saw some of the worst fires.
Big storms: Hurricane Isaac made landfall at the end of August in southeastern Louisiana, seven years after Hurricane Katrina's arrival, which flooded New Orleans. This time, however, the city, with its fortified protection system, was spared the devastation. Later in the year, Superstorm Sandy, a hybrid hurricane and winter storm, pummeled the East Coast, bringing an unprecedented storm tide to The Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan. A sustained cluster of violent thunderstorms, called a derecho event, over central, eastern and northeastern states also made NOAA's list of billion-dollar-plus disasters; 28 people died as a result of these storms in late June and early July.
Biggest killers: The deadliest weather event of the year goes to Typhoon Bopha, which struck the Philippines in early December. The death toll has surpassed 1,000, with hundreds more missing, including fishermen who were out to sea when the typhoon — a tropical cyclone in the western Pacific or Indian Oceans — struck, according to media reports. But by comparison, the deadliest recorded tropical cyclone hit Bangladesh in November 1970, killing half-a-million people, Burt said. The cold wave that hit central and eastern Europe early in the year ranked as the second deadliest event of 2012, killing 824 people, Burt said.
Cold, but not unprecedented: In spite of its severity, this cold wave failed to set records. In fact, Burt said he is not aware of any significant cold records that were set during 2012. However, the coldest temperature for the year worldwide was recorded on Sept. 16 at Vostok, Antarctica, at minus 119.6 degrees F (minus 84.2 degrees C), according to Burt.
A slow year for tornados: After the devastation caused by tornados in 2011, this year has been relatively quiet. In fact, 2012 is on track to have the lowest tornado death count in a couple of decades, Burt said.