Even as temperatures were expected to move into the low 50s later this week, a veteran weather-watcher with University of Missouri Extension released findings indicating that 2012 was the Show-Me State's warmest year since 1895 — the first year records were kept. It was also one of the driest.
And for the moment, at least, things aren't looking a lot better for 2013, especially in northwest Missouri.
Pat Guinan, an Extension climatologist, says December temperatures statewide ran well above normal, closing out a year dominated by hot weather and drought.
Ultimately, Guinan said, 2012 could rank among the top-10 driest years ever. Extension scientists are still studying the data, but at the least the year was probably the driest for Missouri farmers since 1980.
Overall, drought conditions improved across portions the state this fall, thanks largely to Hurricane Isaac. But chances for a full recharge of water resources appear slim, Guinan said, at least through the early part of the year.
Winter is typically the dry season in Missouri, and Guinan said it is unlikely surface and ground moisture will fully recover before the start of a new growing season.
Nodaway and the surrounding counties are particularly vulnerable should the drought continue because northwest Missouri typically receives only 3-4 inches of precipitation between December and February. Merely average amounts of snowfall and rainfall will be insufficient to make up for a 2012 precipitation deficit that totaled more than a foot, Guinan said.
Since spring 2010, only a handful of months have registered below-normal temperatures in Missouri. March 2012 was one of the warmest during that period, with the average high recorded at 14 degrees above normal.
"Warm spring trends over the past few decades have extended the growing season," Guinan said. "Our median spring freeze date is occurring three to four days earlier compared to the long term."
He added, however, that the median date for the first fall frost hasn't changed much.
Last year, sunny days in May and June, coupled with above-normal temperatures and below-normal relative humidity, led to unusually high moisture loss from soils, water surfaces and vegetation, Guinan said. Those conditions, coupled with a lack of rainfall, resulted in what climatologists called a "flash drought."
Reports of deteriorating pastures, declining soil moisture reserves, limited stock water supplies and crop stress increased significantly as summer progressed. By July, there were also widespread hay shortages.
As August began, Missouri had the worst corn, soybean and pasture conditions in the United States, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Much of the Information for this article was provided by the MU Extension Cooperative Media Group.