The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record for the nation. At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 engulfed 61 percent of the nation with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions. The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres -- the third highest on record.
The data indicates that the U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation. The index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as land-falling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998. To date, 2012 has seen 11 disasters that have reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, to include Sandy, Isaac, and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley.
NOAA also reported on Alaska and Hawaii and indicated in summary that Alaska was cooler and slightly wetter than average during 2012. The year began very cold for the State with a January temperature 14.0°F below the 1971-2000 average. Each subsequent season was also cooler than average, resulting in an annual temperature 2.3°F below average. Much of 2012 was also wetter than average, and the annual precipitation total was 9.2 percent above average. Drought conditions continued to plague Hawaii during 2012. At the beginning of 2012, 47.4 percent of the State was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. By the end of the year, the percent area experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought expanded to 63.3 percent of the State.