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2014 Weather: Deceivingly "Average"

08:29AM Dec 30, 2014

Big regional differences dominate the past year’s highlights

Statistically speaking, there wasn’t any big weather news of note in the U.S. in 2014—at least on the national scale. The National Climatic Data Center has 120 years of national data and ranks 2014 pretty much dead center in terms of overall temperature and precipitation.

On closer inspection, “average” was only achieved by mixing wildly different weather patterns generated east and west of the Rockies. Hottest or near-hottest years on record were recorded in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona. Meanwhile, coldest or near-coldest years on record were recorded in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

With a few exceptions, the Midwestern chill didn’t have negative implications for agriculture. The 
so-called “polar vortex” that plagued the eastern U.S. the first few months of 2014 prior to the growing season and the cooler summer weather appeared to be beneficial, explains Mike Hoffman, “AgDay” meteorologist.

“While farmers were delayed getting into the fields in the spring, which delayed harvesting in the fall, the late spring and summer weather was great for most crops,” he says. “There were no real heat waves, and the rains came when needed in most areas. It was great growing weather for much of the central and eastern Corn Belt.”

The High Plains had a dry start to 2014, Hoffman says. By June, much of the region got a good dose of rainfall, bringing the area much-needed relief.

“In many cases, the rains came just in time to help,” he adds.

California farmers were relieved to hear the words “soaking rain” in the forecast from an early December storm, but was it enough? The system brought as much as a foot of rainfall to central parts of the state.

It’s a good start. Still, forecasters agree additional rainfall will be needed throughout the winter to wipe out the long-term effects of California’s multiyear drought. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 80% of the state is engulfed in the two most severe categories of drought.

A recent study looked into whether the record dry, hot weather California has been seeing could be attributed to man-made activity or natural variability. The conclusion was just plain bad luck. Climate models didn’t predict the high-pressure system that developed off the coast of California, says Richard Seager, Columbia University researcher.

“California lost essentially one full year of precipitation,” he says.

How will the rest of the winter shape up? It depends on who you ask. The National Weather Service predicts a moderate chance of a cooler-than-normal start to the year in the lower Midwest, Midsouth and Southeast, with hotter average temperatures still predicted to prevail in the West. As for precipitation, the South and Southwest have the best chance for elevated moisture, and the eastern Corn Belt is likely to have a drier winter. 

The National Climatic Data Center ranked 2014’s weather with the 120-year average. Each number indicates how cold/hot it was compared to other years. For example, 2014 was the fifth-coldest year in Iowa on record.