Doomsayers may have been wrong with their dire life-on-earth projections on the day the Mayan calendar ended this month but 2012 still saw much hardship and suffering.
The earth is still rotating on its axis - good news for mankind - but the bad news is that 2012 was a year of terrible weather extremes, bringing untold misery and much death around the planet. In the U.S., this will go down as the year of the superstorm as both our Pacific and Atlantic coastlines were regularly pummeled by large weather systems.
Although this was the seventh straight year that no major (category 3, 4, or 5) hurricanes hit the U.S., the storm classification really didn't matter much to those in the path of Sandy, after the massive post-tropical cyclone made landfall along the New Jersey coast in late October.
In becoming the second-costliest storm in our nation's history, Sandy registered the lowest barometric pressure in the history of the Northeast, creating winds, storm surge and high tide that over a wide area of the Northeast coastline. Although our area escaped the major devastation from the Frankenstorm, it gave us the kind of gale-force winds one would expect to see in tornado alley, not the heavily populated East Coast.
While the coasts were blasted by superstorms in 2012, much of the nation's interior suffered from a withering yearlong drought. Estimates caused by both extreme weather disasters are expected to exceed $60 billion, surpassing last year's aggregate costs for disasters.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this country suffered 11 weather-related events that cost $1 billion apiece. The economic losses from Sandy are still be tallied.
Globally, the weather was just as extreme as countries were plagued by cold snaps, heat waves and droughts. The extreme weather of 2012 began the first month of the year when Alaskans were digging out of record snowfall while many on the U.S. mainland were enjoying t-shirt weather. A cold snap in Europe, meanwhile, killed hundreds and halted commerce as rivers and canals froze solid.
In the western U.S., wildfires, fueled by drought and tinder-dry woodlands, scorched a staggering 9.15 million acres. Drought conditions also led to Colorado's worst fire season in over a decade. The heat wave devastated the corn belt state of Nebraska, which experienced its driest year since they started keeping records over a century ago.
At least 919 tornadoes were confirmed in the U.S. in 2012, causing 68 fatalities and an estimated $4.8 billion in damages.
In our region, the extreme weather was more localized after strong, fast-moving storms pounded communities, causing flooding, fallen trees, power outages and road closings. On May 26, a strong storm cell dropped nearly six inches of rain in just a two-hour period in Summit Hill and Lansford, causing basements and roadways to flood throughout the area.
Even with the cooling effects of La Nina early in the year, the World Meteorological Organization projected 2012 to be the warmest year on record since 1850 and it predicts the coming year could be even hotter. With all the crazy weather patterns we've been seeing, nothing should surprise us.
By Jim Zbick