Countdown: 2012's Wildest Weather

A year of extremes

Hurricane Sandy Brooklyn

A striking image of Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn as Hurricane Sandy approaches on Oct. 29, 2012. (Image credit: Carlos Ayala)

2012 was a year of weather extremes. From frozen canals in Venice to the fewest tornadoes since 1950, OurAmazingPlanet counts down the highs and lows of this year's wildest weather, starting in January and moving chronologically.

Alaska buried by snow

Alaska National Guardsmen clear a building roof in Cordova, near Anchorage, on Jan. 9.

Alaska National Guardsmen clear a building roof in Cordova, near Anchorage, on Jan. 9. (Image credit: Spc. Balinda O'Neal, Alaska National Guard Public Affairs.)

2012 opened with jaw-dropping blizzards in Alaska, burying towns in record-breaking snow. Nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters) of snow fell in Anchorage by January, double what the state's capital city usually receives by that date.

The wintry weather also created a conundrum for the northern town of Nome. A massive storm swept their final winter fuel shipment out to sea, requiring a Coast Guard icebreaker to guidea Russian fuel tanker into shore to deliver enough fuel for the frigid months ahead.

Europe's deep freeze

Danube River frozen

Ice floes on the Danube in Budapest, as seen on Feb. 11, 2012. (Image credit: adambotond/flickr)

A climate pattern straight out of a cold war novel kept Europeans shivering in February. Called a "Russian Winter," the intense cold and snow froze stretches of the Danube River and even stilled Venice's famous canals. Hundreds died across the continent from exposure.

Tornado in Italy

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A tornado looms over Venice. (Image credit: Still from YouTube video.)

A tornado swept across Italy's historic island city of Venice on June 12, leaving a trail of twisted debris and a shaken populace in its wake.The tornado, or "tromba d'aria" (trumpet of the air) in Italian, ripped roofs from houses, uprooted trees and left boats piled in a jumble, according to local media reports.

Derecho windstorm sweeps across the U.S.

Derecho clouds show windstorm near Indiana.

An ominous line of clouds portends the approaching derecho in La Porte, Ind., on the afternoon of June 29. (Image credit: NOAA/Courtesy of Kevin Gould.)

A destructive derecho a rare, powerful, and long-reaching windstorm that accompanies lines of thunderstorms swept from the Midwest to the East Coast on June 29.

The storm downed power lines and toppled trees from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Damage surveys uncovered wind speeds of 100 mph (160 kph) in Zanesville, Ohio, and Preston County, W. Va. equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.

Extreme drought and heat in the U.S.

US drought map

The extent of the 2012 drought gripping much of the United States can be seen in this map made with satellite data that measures where plant growth is below normal (brown) and above normal (green). The map compares data from August 2012 to that from 2002. (Image credit: NASA)

2012 will likely be the hottest year on record in the United States, and daily temperature records melted across the country as heat waves and drought gripped the nation. In June alone, 164 all-time high temperature records were tied or broken, according to government records.

With extreme heat comes drought, and in July, just under 56 percent of the country was experiencing drought conditions, a record. In August, 39 percent of the nation suffered from severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with two-thirds of the contiguous states experiencing some level of drought. The 2012 drought was the worst observed since the U.S. Drought Monitor began operating in 2000.

Colorado wildfires

The High Park Fire burning

The High Park Fire Burns on June 10. It's been the costliest fire in Colorado history. It has already cost more than $31.5 million to put the fires out, and 2.2 million gallons (8.3 million liters) of water have been dropped on the fire, according to InciWeb. (Image credit: U.S. Forest Service)

Wildfires raged through Colorado and throughout the Southwest earlier this summer, before shifting west and north to hit Washington, Montana and Idaho.

The 2012 wildfire season is on track to come in second to the U.S. record for the largest area burned, with 9.15 million acres charred as of November, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The record was set in 2006, when more than 9.5 million acres (35,600 square kilometers) were torched.

2012 also earns notice for the most acres burned per fire: This year saw the fewest fires on record, 55,505 through November, but they were larger in size, according to the Fire Center.

Tornadoes disappear

Tornado damage on March 2, 2012

Tornado damage in Henryville, Ind., after a tornado swept through the small community on March 2, 2012. There have been fewer tornadoes this year than most. (Image credit: Michael Raphael/FEMA.)

Tornado season kicked off early this year, with more twisters by mid-April than ever seen since records began in 1950. After May, though, the number of tornadoes dropped off to a historic low. So far this year the United States has had only 888 tornadoes; last year, there were 1,691, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Barring a meteorologically implausible flurry of tornadoes in the next week, 2012 could set the record for the fewest tornadoes.

Super typhoons hit Asia

Typhoon Saola and Typhoon Damrey together in a satellite image

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of Typhoon Saola approaching Taiwan, and Typhoon Damrey approaching southern Japan on Aug. 1 at 0200 UTC (July 31 at 10:00 p.m. EDT.) (Image credit: NASA Goddard/MODIS Rapid Response Team)

The United States wasn't the only country to suffer from superstorms this year. Three major typhoons socked the Korean Peninsula in August and September, producing widespread torrential rains and flooding. In July, Beijing saw its heaviest rainfall in 61 years when Typhoon Vicente slammed the capital. In August, twin typhoons came ashore one right after the other in China. As late as December, Super Typhoon Bopha wreaked havoc in the Philippines, killing more than 1,000 people.

Hurricane Sandy

Another spooky-sky image from Brooklyn on Tuesday, Oct. 30, day after Hurricane Sandy.

Another spooky-sky image from Brooklyn on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, one day after Hurricane Sandy. (Image credit: hey_im_dan, via Flickr with permission.)

through the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States in late October 2012. The storm left dozens dead, thousands homeless and millions without power.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States about 8 p.m. EDT Oct. 29, striking near Atlantic City, N.J., with winds of 80 mph (129 kph). A full moon made high tides 20 percent higher than normal and amplified Sandy's storm surge. Streets were flooded, trees and power lines knocked down and the city's famed boardwalk was ripped apart.

Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, making it one of the costliest natural disasters on record in the United States, according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.

Live Science Staff
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