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The American Drought Of 2012

January 12, 2013
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By Paul Homewood


According to Jeff Masters, last year’s drought in the US was “America’s worst drought since the 1930s Dust Bowl “, and “one of the most expensive weather disasters in world history”.

But how bad was it really? As usual, it is a good idea to check the facts.





According to NCDC, the year was only the 15th driest on record since 1895. In other words, the sort of occurrence that could be expected every 8 years!

The claim that it is the worst since the 1930’s is blatant nonsense. A bunch of years in the 1950’s were almost as bad as the dustbowl era, and, more recently, 1988 was a much drier year.

Compare the above map for 2012, with the one below for 1910, the driest year on record. Drought in 1910 was much more extensive, and intensive, than last year. There were 36 states with below average rainfall in 1910, compared to 27 last year.




Rainfall trends are actually increasing, and the remarkable thing about the last 20 years has been the lack of droughts. Global warming may be responsible for all sorts of things, but it appears that US droughts is not one of them.

It seems a pity that you cannot get this information from Jeff Masters.


While I’m On The Subject!

In the article, that I linked to above, Jeff Masters gives a list of “Billion dollar weather disasters of 2012”, of which there are 26, and which he introduces by saying “It was another year of incredible weather extremes globally during 2012”.

Curiously, of the 26 events listed, 5 are for US tornado events. I say “curiously”, because, as we all know, last year was one of the quietest years on record for tornadoes. The fact that they may be “billion dollar” events has everything to do with economic growth and inflation, and absolutely nothing to do with “incredible weather extremes”.

But I don’t suppose Jeff will bother pointing this out either.

  1. John F. Hultquist permalink
    January 12, 2013 6:20 pm

    Just to start out fair and balanced I thought the USA 2012 drought was considered severe because many of the dry areas were also dry in 2011.

    Reading the report linked to by you at ‘ According to Jeff Masters’, he says:
    “I present for you, now, the top ten global weather stories of 2012, chosen for their meteorological significance and human and economic impact:”

    The table that follows the statement actually lists many more than 10, so the number refers to the ones with photos and text that follow. Note the “ANDs” in his statement. How #4, with a photo of the Petermann Glacier (incl. melt on Greenland), made this list is beyond logic. It might be classed as of minor meteorological significance but there was zero human impact. In an economic sense, I supposed it cost a few thousand dollars to monitor this – and likely worth that cost.

    Most of Jeff’s text seems more like a middle schooler’s report on what I saw on my summer vacation. Many of these things are interesting as weather events and some involved loss of lives. None are out of the ordinary. The dollar amounts, along with all the rest, need context. We have a 2009 car. A deer jumped out of the road’s side-ditch. She bounced off but not before damaging the front headlight assembly, the right fender and the passenger door (painting only). Total cost was over $2,000 for repair. Not too many years ago this incident would have only resulted in the replacement of the headlight for about $7. Note: 300 X 7 = 2100. Jeff and friends should be required to gain a sense of historical context before writing any more scary posts.

    • January 12, 2013 8:01 pm

      Just to start out fair and balanced I thought the USA 2012 drought was considered severe because many of the dry areas were also dry in 2011.

      The comparison to 2011 is interesting, John.

      Colorado and Wyoming, the driest states in 2012, were actually wetter than normal in 2011, along with the rest of the Midwest. The only states that seem to have had 2 dry years running are Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

      • January 13, 2013 6:51 am

        We had record snowfall and floods here in Colorado in 2011.

  2. Sundance permalink
    January 13, 2013 4:54 pm

    When someone like Masters claims that drought was “expensive” we should judge that against total global wealth + human life loss when comparing it to past drought expenses. The potato famine for example led to far more loss of life and if one puts the cost in context, the 2012 drought was not very expensive at all.

  3. Andy DC permalink
    January 15, 2013 5:15 am

    The US insurance industry has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. It used to be that when a couple pieces of siding were blown off a house, you got replacement siding for the pieces blown off. Now, people often get all new siding. Same goes for shingles on a roof. The reason is that the new siding/shingles does not exactly match the old. That may be true, but usually with time, it all blends in pertty well. But nevertheless, various state insurance commissions have gone along with this nonsense.

    So is it any wonder that we get more billion dollar disasters?

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