The summer of 2012 has been one a farmer would love to forget and one that weathermen never will. Daily temperature records were regularly shattered throughout the United States and historic drought conditions, which remain ongoing in many areas, caused crop yields to suffer. By July 19, after weeks of “unrelenting heat and a lack of rain continued the downward spiral of drought conditions,” according to National Climate Data Scientist Richard Heim, nearly 64% of the nation had officially entered drought, the highest percentage since 1950s.
Worst of all, some fear that this is less of an anomaly and more a sign of what’s to come in a warmer future. If that is the case, farmers, states and the nation at large will have to find new ways to ensure expected results can still be met. Regardless, the summer of 2012 will be notable, either for its harsh conditions or as the first in a line or extreme summers.
So here, we look back at a memorable season.
Wildfires burned in many areas of the western United States this summer, but a blaze in Colorado set historic state records. At least six were killed and some 600 homes were destroyed by a wildfire that devastated the Waldo section of Colorado Springs. The property damage has been estimated north of $500 million, some $350 million of which is insured, but the human toll looms even larger. A local resident, C.J. Moore told NPR that the fire was so hot her driveway exploded and, in the blaze, she lost much more than possessions. ”One of the things I thought about the other day was the flag that was over my late husband’s casket,” Moore told NPR. “And I’m going, ‘I can’t replace that.’ I mean, yeah, I can get another flag, but it wouldn’t have served the same purpose. And you [think about it], and then tears well up.”
As a relentless heat wave blankets much of the country, and cities throughout the United States set temperature records, the nation’s capital sets a historic mark. June 28 to July 8 marks an 11-day stretch of 95-degree-or-hotter days in Washington, D.C., breaking the previous record set in 1930. The 105 Fahrenheit reached on July 7th becomes the second-hottest day in the city’s history. (Chart above, and data, via the Washington Post.)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 38% of the U.S. corn crop is rated as poor to very poor. “That 38% represents the highest amount of U.S. corn rated poor to very poor since the end of the 1988 growing season,” said USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. “We now see in 13 of the 18 major production states in the U.S., at least one quarter of the corn crop rated poor to very poor.” In Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana, more than 70% of the corn crop is rated as poor.
A Milliman report estimates that a dozen major corn and soybean-producing states could tally underwriting losses of $2.8 billion. The 12 states included were Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, and Milliman notes that “other states, including Arkansas and many western states, are also experiencing an intense drought and could see high crop insurance indemnities as well.”
The U.S. drought monitor releases shocking findings: due to “unrelenting heat and lack of rain,” 63.5% of the United States is now officially suffering from drought. Mark Svoboda, climatologist for the U.S. drought monitor notes that the summer heat, on top of a dry winter and a warm spring, “Our soil moistures are depleted.”
In a summer full of them, the USDA extended yet another series of disaster proclamations for counties in several states, raising the number of counties where farmers were eligible for drought-related disaster assistance to 1,369. The department noted that this highlighted the need for Congressional action. “The urgency for Congress to pass a food, farm and jobs bill is greater than ever,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The hard-working Americans who produce our food and fiber, feed for livestock, and contribute to a home-grown energy policy—they need action now.” One week later, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack would report that more than 50% of the nation’s counties were officially designated disaster zones, including more than three-quarters of U.S. cattle acreage. ”It’s the most severe and expensive drought in 25 years,” said USDA economist Timothy Park.
The House of Representatives passes a $383 million drought-assistance package for farmers and livestock producers. The short-term care package is generally seen as a reasonable relief effort but also highlights Congress’s failure to pass a long-term farm bill. “My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) in a statement, “but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed.”
Outspoken NASA climate scientist James Hansen writes a Washington Post op-ed proclaiming that extreme weather such as the ongoing drought and recurring heat waves this summer are the direct result of man-made climate change. ”Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change,” wrote Hansen. “To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”
The National Crop Insurance Services, an industry trade group, reported that U.S. crop insurers had already paid out $822 million in indemnities so far this season.
The USDA updates its corn outlook to show that 51% of the corn in the 18 states that yield upwards of 90% of the U.S. crop yield are rated poor. 26% of that total is considered very poor. “This again shows that rains this week were too little, too late to stabilize the corn crop,” said DTN Analyst John Sanow.