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So how does 2012 stack up weather wise?


There has been a lot in the news about the great drought of 2012 and what the high temperatures might be telling us about what is happening to climate. So rather that rely on "some people say" as a source, I decided to check climate data from NOAA to get some perspective on the situation. NOAA has a great time series of statewide data for important weather parameters including average temperatures, precipitation and several measures of drought severity.

First of all how does 2012 stack up so far temperature wise for Kansas?

My firs NOAA data plot shows June's historical temperature data just by itself:

Notice that June just by itself really isn't so extreme historically. But my impression as a biologist who spends a lot of time doors, is that this year HAS been abnormally warm so lets look at year to date historical data shown in my next plot:

This shows a quite different story. As you can see the year to date temperature through June is very extreme. The year to data average temperature for the state is 55 degrees F. The next closest year to date average for Kansas appears to be 1986 at 54 degrees F. Going back to the 1930's, 1934 is the dust bowl year that comes closest at 53 degrees F. So temperature wise- so far this year is historically abnormal. However many of the record highs of the 1930's still stand.

Another concern is of course the several drought and NOAA provides several drought indices. Not being familiar with how these indices relate to each other I chose just to plot the basic Palmer Drought Severity index which uses local temperature and precipitation data to provide an index of drought severity that can be used to examine historical data: Negative values of the index represent more severe local drought conditions.

Notice that 2012 does not even come close in severity to the earlier droughts, including some relatively recent droughts of the 1980's. What is interesting is that the Palmer index suggests that the drought of the mid 1950's was in some respects more intense than the drought of the 1930's.

So the data suggest that yes it has been really abnormally warm so far in 2012. On the other hand the Palmer data suggest that the current drought is not (At least through June) as severe as a number of other droughts we have had.

One problem we have of course looking at historical data is that agricultural practices have changed since the 1930's. Much of the marginal land that was farmed then is not farmed now or is farmed using large scale irrigation. Farmers today tend to use tillage and other conservation practices that that probably are moderating local temperature and precipitation to some degree compared to earlier years. This might explain the greater number of extreme highs during the 1930's when conservation practices were not as widespread.

If you want to have your own fun looking at climate data, check out the NOAA site at:


There is a pull menu where you can select your state or region. You can also filter the data in various ways. This is a good way to check one's perceptions of climate change against historical data so you won't have to rely on what "some people say" or the infamous "they say" as a data source!

A link the drought indices is here: http://www.drought.noaa.gov/palmer.html

If you are into looking at extremes in terms of temperature and precipitation weather underground has a link to climate data. Go to www.wunderground.com and select the climate tab. Have fun!


RoeDapple 5 years, 11 months ago

Al Gore will be so disappoint . . .

Why you wanna bring facts into the argument?

Paul Decelles 5 years, 11 months ago

Roe, I know. But there is no denying this has been an unusual year. It does look like my perceptions from "in the field" are correct but while the drought is severe, it does not measure up to even some of the drought periods of the 1980's. By the way, in the 1980's I worked for the Menninger Clinic and had an office down town across from the Capital. One day we had a brief dust storm- and it was severe enough that one could go out and look at the sun which appeared as a bluish disk in the sky. Really eerie feeling.

RoeDapple 5 years, 11 months ago

Of course . . . it's early yet. If this continues through Sept./Oct. and on into next year . . .

My thoughts; With 85/90% of the world not putting much effort into changing manufacturing/transportation/disposal methods, we may only delay the inevitable no matter how much is done by the other 10/15%. In other words,"damage done". When humanity wipes itself out by disease, war or what ever means, only then will the earth and the few survivors have a chance at recovery.

gr 5 years, 11 months ago

While I agree that we need to change our manufacturing/transportation/disposal methods, none of that has to do with global warming nor carbon dioxide. Everyone's worried about carbon dioxide, (air), and how to make money off of selling tax credits, patting themselves on the back for breathing less, shoving probes up cows rears and they are forgetting about pollution, destruction of environment, and depletion of resources. It's almost like global warming was invented to take the spotlight off of pollution.

Thanks to Paul for showing this data. And yes, it does look like this year is warmer than other years. Alternating periods of warmth followed by periods of coldness. While 100 years comparison is better than 30 or less years as some do, I'm not sure one could conclude anything about the earth in general other we are going through a warm and dry spell right now. Looking at the drought patterns on the map suggests to me that the next year or two could be dry ones, too. Although the drought trend seems to be lessening from the 30's.

Of interest would be to do a temperature trend from 1930 to the 1980. It looks like it would be decreasing. Hence the fear of global cooling in the 70's. It's all how you slice it up. Is 100 years enough? What if the temperature for the previous 1000 years showed wilder swings than just these last 100 years? Would that kind of diminish the drama? What if the temperature was a very stable flat-line and then when 1900 hit it did this. That would kind of heighten the drama. And what if the first years of the 1900's were unusually cold for some reason? Without seeing a bigger picture, we don't know if this is normal or abnormal.

When your mom told you to, "Shut that door. What are you trying to do, warm up the whole outdoors?", she wasn't literally serious about warming up the outdoors. But it may warm for other reasons.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 11 months ago

Weather and climate are both affected by so many things. Warm water rises to the top just as warm air does, and wind blowing over it makes countries that are close to it warm. If mountains are high enough then rain will fall on one side and the other side will be a desert. Now, you add it the huge variables created by humans in the form of mega cities which funnel winds though concrete canyons, reflect or absorb heat due everything being paved over, etc. Energy producing plants, factories, stores, homes, the lifestyle of the individual all have an impact. London's famous fogs were due to smoke from all of the wood burning fireplaces and stoves, it was not a true fog. Humans have influenced the environment since the beginning and somethings with bad results, but there was room to leave and move on. Now there are so many people and so many ways to do harm and most of them benefit the people doing it, in the short term.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 11 months ago

I will be interested in seeing how the entire year stacks up. Also my understanding is that climate models are just getting to the point where we can look at the role that different factors have on events like this. As for the rest of your comment, I think the politicization of climate issues has damaged our ability to act as a society. This should not be a Democrat or Republican issue but an issue for our whole civilization to act on. If people want to disagree and haggle over the best way to encourage real change fine, but spending time denying the reality of the vast uncontrolled experiment we are engaged in is stupid and down right dangerous IMHO.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 11 months ago

Thanks so much, Paul, for stepping back from the anecdotal, which is fascinating, to look at the larger dataset in an attempt to put this year into context. I, too, am interested in how things will look at the end of the summer, and alas, the forecast put out by the Climate Prediction Center, is not good, showing drought conditions persisting at least into October:


As important as this drought is locally, putting this in a larger perspective should make Kansans realize that we are not alone. Globally, the National Climate Data Center


states that globally

1) June 2012 was the 328th consecutive month above the 20th Century average;

2) June was the second consecutive month with the highest global land temperatures on record;

3) June's Arctic ice loss of 1.1 million square miles was the largest loss of any June on record (which started in 1979).

I agree that the Wunderground climate resources are very valuable and educational for anyone interested in getting a handle on the climate change issue, regardless of your opinion on it all. Here's the link:


Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 11 months ago

I read international newspapers are they are very concerned about our drought as we are the worlds largest exporter of wheat and soy. Other countries will not be able to import as much as they need to feed their people and will be hurting. Meanwhile England is getting too much rain which will affect their crops. Some will say that the dust bowl came and went and this will also, but there are many factors at work now that were not present then. The dust bowl was a long, tough slog to those who endured it. Batten down the hatches, I can see a squall on the horizon and it is headed right for us.

Paul Decelles 5 years, 11 months ago

Right about now I will take some cold tamale..;-)

Chris Golledge 5 years, 11 months ago

Nice one Paul.

Adding to the links, globally, June has been very warm. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2012/6

I'm curious about the drought. A pattern of stream gauge data that came out of one of my posts was that western gauges were trending down, and eastern gauges were trending up. This year it has been dry all over the state, but not equally. So, I'm wondering if the drought by state index is too broad and real effects are getting blurred together on the average. But that would also have been the case for the mid-50s, I guess.

Solar irradiance is on the upswing of its ~11 year cycle, and El Nino conditions are likely to develop. 2013 and 2014 may be interesting.

Frankie, I had thought wheat did well, corn is a disaster, and soybean is not looking so good. But yeah, the US shortfall in corn production is a concern. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-22/u-dot-s-dot-drought-to-cut-global-corn-supply-by-60-mln-tons

Paul Decelles 5 years, 11 months ago


I think you could be right. My impression based on what I am hearing about what's going on in Western Kansas/Eastern Colorado is that yes the drought is much more severe there. By the way the issue is not just agriculture:


As for other conditions, I don't know- but it does seem we have a mixture of bad things going on on top of human caused climate change.

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