Climate experts outline weather extremes across the U.S.
By Bob Berwyn
After years of persistent drought across big swaths of contiguous 48 states, the weather picture changed dramatically in 2012. Instead of dealing with parched ground, farmers in the Southeast weren’t able to harvest crops this summer because of standing water in the fields.
Mold and fungal diseases were reported across the region, particularly on crops such as corn, tomatoes and peanuts. The excess moisture has degraded the quality and flavor of many crops, including watermelons, tobacco, and peaches. Flooded soil has hampered the growth of cotton and corn, with damage from excess moisture expected to cost billions, The National Climatic Data Center reported this week in its July update.
“They’ve gone from famine to feast to underwater,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In a sign of the extreme shift in weather patterns, Crouch said that Lake Hartwell, a huge reservoir near Atlanta, went from near empty in 2010 to overflowing this year for only the second time in its history.
The extremes were geographic, too. Florida reported its all-time wettest July.
“They averaged more than a foot of rain for the month, so that means some areas got even more,” Crouch said, pinpointing the eastern panhandle as the epicenter for summer rains in the region.
But across the country, Oregon reported its driest July on record, with an average of just 0.03 inches for the month, and California is reporting its driest January to July period in recorded history.
In the Northeast, every single state reported flash flooding during July, and New Jersey farmers reported losing entire crops of squash and other produce.
Alaska, a weather region unto itself, also reported numerous records and extremes, as one of the coldest spring seasons on record was followed by an exceptional heatwave in June and July, leading to all-time record high temps in Fairbanks and Juneau and the warmest June-July period on record in Barrow, on Alaska’s Arctic Ocean coast.
In a briefing this week, Alaska-based climate expert Rick Thoman said the heatwave is stressing the state’s boreal forests, and cold-loving fish are also feeling the pain, as rivers warm to above-normal temperatures.