2012 Breaks Records for Heat, Drought, Weather Extremes

Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy blows along the U.S. east coast, to disastrous effect. Image is rotated so that you are looking south from Canada, with north toward the bottom. (NASA image courtesy Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web)


DOHA, Qatar, November 29, 2012 (ENS) – “Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

This year is set to be the ninth warmest on record, according to the latest data from the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO released its provisional annual report on the state of the global climate Wednesday to inform negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference now underway in Doha.

The years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and the WMO reports the first 10 months indicate that 2012 will be similar despite the cooling influence of La Niña early in the year.

La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El Niño, which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in that region.

Michel Jarraud
Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, warns the world about climate change. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale. But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities,” said the WMO Secretary-General.

The WMO statement highlighted the unprecedented melt of the Arctic sea ice and multiple weather and climate extremes which affected many parts of the world.

“The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” warned Jarraud.

January-October 2012 has been the ninth warmest such period since records began in 1850.

The global land and ocean surface temperature for the period was about 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the corresponding 1961–1990 average of 14.2°C, according to the WMO.

Notable extreme events were observed worldwide, but some parts of the Northern Hemisphere were affected by multiple extremes during January–October 2012, says the WMO.

The year began with a weak-to-moderate strength La Niña, which had developed in October 2011.

After the end of the La Niña in April, the global land and ocean temperatures rose increasingly above the long-term average with each consecutive month. The six-month average of May–October 2012 was among the four warmest such periods on record.

The Arctic reached its lowest annual sea ice extent since the start of satellite records on September 16, measuring 3.41 million square kilometers. This was 18 percent less than the previous record low of September 18, 2007.

Highlights of WMO’s 2012 provisional statement

Temperatures and Drought:

Major heat waves impacted the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in March–May across Europe and the continental United States, which had the warmest 10 month period on record. Some 15,000 new daily heat records were set and drought was felt across nearly two-thirds of the continental United States.

Russia had its second warmest summer on record after 2010 with drought across western Russia. Numerous temperature records were broken in Morocco in summer.

Southern Europe, western and central Russia, Asia, South America, Africa and the Pacific experienced above-average temperatures.

flood Nigeria
Floods made life difficult for Nigerians, October 2012 (Photo by the Presidential Commission on Flood Relief)

In China, the Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan province experienced severe drought during winter and spring.

Northern Brazil witnessed the worst drought in 50 years.

There were cooler-than-average conditions across parts of northern China and Australia, but the April–October precipitation total in Australia was 31 percent below normal.


Many parts of western Africa and the Sahel, including Niger and Chad, suffered serious flooding between July and September because of a very active monsoon.

Heavy rainfall from the end of July through early October brought exceptional floods to Nigeria.

Parts of southern China experienced their heaviest rainfall in the last 32 years in April and May.

Devastating monsoonal floods impacted Pakistan during September.

Central and parts of northern Argentina suffered from record rainfall and flooding in August, and parts of Colombia were affected by heavy precipitation for most of the year.

Snow and Extreme Cold:

A cold spell on the Eurasian continent from late January to mid-February was notable for its intensity, duration, and impact. Across eastern Russia, temperatures ranged between -45°C to -50°C during the end of January. Some areas across northern Europe and central Russia experienced temperatures below -40°C.

Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy blows along the U.S. east coast, to disastrous effect, October 30, 2012. Image is rotated so that you are looking south from Canada. (NASA image courtesy Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Web)

Tropical Cyclones:

Global tropical cyclone activity for the first 10 months was near the 1981–2010 average of 85 storms, with a total of 81 storms.

The Atlantic basin experienced an above-average hurricane season for a third consecutive year with a total of 19 storms, with 10 reaching hurricane status, the most notably being Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the U.S. East Coast, claiming more than 100 lives and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Throughout the year, East Asia was hit by powerful typhoons.

Typhoon Sanba was the strongest cyclone, globally, to have formed in 2012. Sanba impacted the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, dumping torrents of rain and triggering floods and landslides that affected thousands of people and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

Dr. Peter Stott, head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the UK’s Met Office, said, “Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s.”

“This variability in global temperatures is not unusual, with several periods lasting a decade or more with little or no warming since the instrumental record began,” said Stott.

“We are investigating why the temperature rise at the surface has slowed in recent years, including how ocean heat content changes and the effects of aerosols from atmospheric pollution may have influenced global climate,” he said.

Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at University of East Anglia, said, “The warmth of individual years is quite dependent on whether an El Niño or a La Niña event is occurring. As happened in 2010, a relatively small El Niño event led to a record breaking year. A similar occurrence could be expected when the next El Niño event occurs.”

drought Iowa
Low water in the Skunk River at Ames, Iowa, due to drought and above average temperatures, August 2012. (Photo by Karuna Ang / Greenpeace)

WMO will release a 10-year report on the state of the climate, “2001-2010, A Decade of Extremes” on December 4.

It was produced in partnership with other United Nations and international agencies and highlights the warming trend for the entire planet, its continents and oceans during the past decade, with an indication of its impacts on health, food security and socio-economic development.

The WMO will publish final updates and figures for 2012 in March 2013.

The WMO’s reports are based on climate data from networks of land-based weather and climate stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites maintained by the organization’s 184 member governments.

The WMO global temperature analysis is based on three complementary datasets.

One is the combined dataset maintained by both the Hadley Centre of the UK Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

Another dataset is maintained by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the third one is from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Additional information is drawn from the ERA-Interim reanalysis-based data set maintained by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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