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As rains, frosts ushered in May, year past racked up heat records

On a May morning that seems more like February, with a layer of frost on my car, following yet another day of the rain, gloom, and murk that seem to have been the norm the past three months, some incidental climatological gleanings:

• With snow across much of the Midwest May 2-3 (10 or more inches in some places), and the sodden, cold spring here in the Mid-South that has turned farmers’ planting plans topsy-turvy, probably not a lot of heed was paid to the report from the World Meteorological Organization that 2012, the scorcher that followed a winter of no winter, was the ninth hottest year since record keeping began.

The previous 10-year period was among Earth’s warmest, the WMO report said, with 2010 being the hottest. Further, 2012 marked the 27th year in a row the global average temperature surpassed the 1961-1990 average. Globally, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998, with 2005 and 2010 as the hottest.

The most extreme heat in 2012 was in the contiguous U.S., but in a touch of irony, while severe drought decimated Midwest grain yields, much of the Mid-South enjoyed record/near-record yields.

• "One more year of numbers isn't in itself significant," said a NASA scientist of the agency’s own report on 2012. "What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming.”

• It merited only a brief paragraph in weather summaries, but rains in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia last week were the heaviest in a quarter-century.

• NOAA scientists report that the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 55.3°F — 3.2°F above the 20th century average and 1.0°F above the previous record in 1998.

2012 had the fourth warmest winter, a record warm spring, the second warmest summer, and a warmer than average autumn. The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average. It was the 15th driest year on record for the nation.

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index shows 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 landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value, and second only to 1998.

• While it’s scant consolation to farmers champing at the bit to see planters rolling, the frequent rains and cool temps this spring have resulted in a gorgeous, lush landscape — a “curtain of green,” to borrow a Eudora Welty book title, and a drive along any roadway offers a breathtaking panorama of contrasting greens.

In an environment that has been more Pacific Northwest than Mid-South, flowering things have put on a spectacular show that hasn’t been cut short by scorching heat.

Weeds, alas, are loving it, too.

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