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Sandy Tops List of 2012 Extreme Weather & Climate Events

By Andrew Freedman, Michael Lemonick, and Dan Yawitz

From unprecedented heat waves that shattered "Dust Bowl" era records from the 1930s, to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated coastal New Jersey and New York, 2012 was the year Mother Nature had it out for the U.S. No country on Earth rivaled the U.S. in 2012 in terms of extreme weather and climate events, as one rare episode after another rocked the country.

Many served to highlight the growing role that global warming may be playing in tipping the odds in favor of high-impact weather events.

     2012's Top 10 Weather & Climate Events
     No. 1: Sandy Alters Climate Conversation
     No. 2: Tenacious Drought Punishes U.S.
     No. 3: Hottest Year on Record in Lower 48
     No. 4: Steamy Arctic Events Alarm Scientists
     No. 5: Hot and Dry Conditions Fuel Wildfires
     No. 6: Hottest March on Record for U.S.
     No. 7: July Is Hottest U.S. Month on Record
     No. 8: Hurricane Isaac Creeps Ashore
     No. 9: Derecho Blows Into Lexicon
     No. 10: 333 Straight Months & Counting
(Click on above links to go straight to each story)

The statistics are staggering: The first half of the year was so warm that by early August, the U.S. had already exceeded the number of record-high temperatures set or tied during all of 2011. July 2012 was the hottest month on record in the U.S., as a desiccating drought enveloped the majority of the lower 48 states, stretching its misery from California to Delaware.

The drought has been the most extensive this country has seen since the 1930s. Ranchers were forced to sell off their herds as their fields turned to dust and the price of feed rose steeply; the Mississippi River neared a record-low level, threatening to curtail commerce; and drought-fueled wildfires consumed tens of thousands of acres across the West and threatened a large population center in Colorado Springs.

More than any other event this year, though, Hurricane Sandy brought the subject of climate change to the forefront, with politicians of all stripes expressing new-found interest in taking action after seeing the impacts of the storm.

By the end of 2012 a scientific, and more importantly, a public consensus had emerged that global warming was making its presence felt. This landmark shift in the conversation revolved around the now hard-to-refute recognition that a warming planet means certain types of extreme events are more likely to occur and are more damaging when they do. It also kick-started a discussion about what action is needed to make the country more resilient to extreme weather and climate events, and how to reduce long-term global warming.

Here is our list of the top 10 extreme weather and climate events of 2012, our third annual year-end review. Our ranking system takes into account each event's severity, societal impact, unusualness (was it a relatively routine occurrence or something that stands alone in recorded history?), and the potential ramifications the event suggests for the climate system as a whole.

(Read each of the Top 10 events by following the page links below)

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