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Extreme Weather Map Highlights 2012 Floods, Fires

Nationwide, more than 3,500 monthly weather records were surpassed last year, and one environmental organization says climate change is to blame.

Thousands of weather records were broken in the U.S. in 2012, including 95 in California, according to an interactive map released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC says the records set point to a pattern of extreme weather events and advocates for increased emergency planning as well as policy changes to limit the effects of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions.

"Extreme weather events inflict tremendous costs on our health and families," the report states.

Nationwide, 3,527 monthly weather records for heat, rain and snow were broken in the United States, according to the NRDC. July was the single hottest month ever on record and the worst drought in 50 years struck the Midwest.

California experienced extreme heat, torrential downpours and massive snowfalls in 2012: 

  • Record-breaking heat in 15 counties and a total of 37 broken heat records
  • Record-breaking snow in 5 counties and a total of 5 broken snow records
  • Record-breaking precipitation in 18 counties and a total of 53 broken precipitation records
  • Total of 102 large wildfires

Nine monthly rainfall records were set in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012:

New Northern California Precipitation Records Location Rainfall Total Date Old Record Date Atlas Road 4.4 in March 14 2.96 in 3/6/2006 St. Helena 3 in March 14 2.92 in 3/6/2006 Watsonville Airport 1.07 in April 12 1.06 in 4/4/2006 Watsonville Airport 1.17 in April 13 1.07 in 4/12/2006 Angwin Pac Union Col 5.92 in Nov. 30 4.98 in 11/21/1977 Atlas Road
4.84 in
Nov. 30 3.16 in
11/18/1950
San Jose International Airport 1.14 in Nov. 30 0.93 in 11/7/2002 St. Helena 4.6 in Nov. 30 3.58 in 11/18/1950 Watsonville Airport 2.07 in Nov. 30 1.83 in 11/9/2002

Northern California locales marked a record high temperature in Watsonville (Santa Cruz County) of 94 degrees on Nov. 6, surpassing the former mark of 93 degrees on Nov. 10, 1056.

There also was a new highest monthly minimum temperature recorded at the San Rafael Civic Center in Marin. It was 59 degrees on Dec. 2, up one degree from the former record of 58 (Dec. 30, 1995).

A new study by insurance giant Munich Re concluded that the amount of weather-related loss events in North America has nearly quintupled from 1980-2011. Some scientists believe climate change is a contributing factor to these extreme weather events.

A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, according to a special report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC report also states that some of the linkages between climate change and extreme events have been drawn more sharply than ever before, and likely will continue to increase with time. That means more hot days, and heavy rain in some regions while others experience severe droughts.

“2012’s unparalleled record-setting heat demonstrates what climate change looks like,” said Kim Knowlton, NRDC Senior Scientist. “This extreme weather has awoken communities across the country to the need for preparedness and protection.”

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