PITTSFIELD -- With the books closed on a mild and wild weather year in the Berkshires, as well as nationwide, a review of National Weather Service records at Pittsfield Municipal Airport reveals what many residents already sense: 2012 was remarkably warm and dry, compared to past averages.
In fact, two records were shattered at the airport. It was the warmest March since 1938, when local record-keeping began, giving new meaning to the term "early spring." And the county also saw the driest November on record.
At the National Weather Service in Albany, N. Y., climatologist Evan Heller compiles seasonal reports based on records there that go back to 1820.
"We know that 2012 was the warmest spring since before the start of the Civil War," he said. He described March's mild weather as "astounding," breaking all records.
In Pittsfield and countywide, 11 out of 12 months saw above-normal temperatures. The 2011-12 season snowfall total of 46 inches, 5 inches shy of the all-time record low, set the stage for the moderate drought that engulfed the region by early summer. It was the third least-snowiest winter on record.
Fortunately for reservoirs and farms, a normally wet May and August, followed by two autumn months that saw above-average rainfall, led the government's National Drought Monitor to declare the Berkshires back to normal as of October.
But at year's end, the county was still 21 percent below normal for 2012, although the 17 inches of snow recorded at the airport in December bodes well for the region's water supplies in the months ahead.
Revised statistics compiled by AccuWeather.com show that the Pittsfield airport recorded 15.9 inches of snow between Dec. 25 and Dec. 30, most of it from storms last Wednesday and Thursday, and on Saturday and Sunday.
With final figures for the year still to be computed following the holiday break, scientists at Cornell University's Northeast Regional Climate Center in Ithaca, N.Y., noted that 2012 was shaping up as the warmest since records began in 1895 for Massachusetts, including Berkshire County, as well as the Northeast and the continental United States.
For the nation as a whole, according to Cornell's regional climatologist Keith L. Eggleston, the average temperature was 3.3 degrees above normal. Improbably, that's the exact same departure recorded for Berkshire County.
At AccuWeather, an overview based on government data showed that the past year's U.S. weather, while slightly calmer than in 2011, nevertheless yielded 11 disasters costing more than $1 billion apiece.
Hurricane-turned-Superstorm Sandy topped the charts with nearly $100 billion in total impact, followed by losses caused by the extreme Midwest drought, ranked as the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
In all, there were seven severe weather outbreaks in the United States, including tornadoes and two hurricane events, as well as the yearlong drought and related wildfires, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Looking ahead, two climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst suggested that the type of weather experienced in the region in 2012 will become the "new normal" over the next 30 years.
A study prepared by Michael Rawlins and Raymond Bradley of the Climate System Research Center at UMass indicates "significantly warmer temperatures in all seasons" throughout the Northeast, while winters will be marked by more rain than snow.
Temperatures for 2012
Here are the monthly temperature deviations from normal and precipitation totals for 2012, as recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport's automated National Weather Service observation station:
- January: Temperature departure: +6.4 degrees; Precipitation: 3.20 inches (16.4 inches snowfall)
- February: Temperature departure: +5.8 degrees; Precipitation: 1.27 inches (5.3 inches snowfall)
- March: Temperature departure: +10.6 degrees; Precipitation: 1.13 inches (3.2 inches snowfall)
- April: Temperature departure: +1.6 degrees; Precipitation: 1.84 inches
- May: Temperature departure: +5.2 degrees; Precipitation: 4.95 inches
- June: Temperature departure: +0.3 degrees; Precipitation: 2.32 inches
- July: Temperature departure: +3.7 degrees; Precipitation: 1.93 inches
- August: Temperature departure: +1.8 inches; Precipitation: 4.54 inches
- September: Temperature departure: +0.3 degrees; Precipitation: 6.29 inches
- October: Temperature departure: +3.7 degrees; Precipitation: 4.36 inches
- November: Temperature departure -2.2 degrees; Precipitation: 0.68 inches (0.6 inches snowfall)
- December: Temperature departure +5.0 degrees; Precipitation: 3.80 inches (17.2 inches snowfall)
- 2012 (full year): Temperature departure: +3.3 degrees; Precipitation: 36.31 inches (normal: 45.92 inches)
Sources: National Weather Service at Pittsfield Municipal Airport (database began in 1938); Accuweather.com.
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