(KXAN) — The National Centers for Environmental Information released its latest update on all things climate-related in 2021.
Temperature and precipitation departures from averages, climate anomalies and weather extremes have all been accounted for by the NCEI and issued in a report. The following are some of the main takeaways.
For 2021, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 54.5°F, 2.5°F above the 20th-century average and ranked as the fourth-warmest year since record keeping began in 1894. The six warmest years on record have all took place since 2012. The December contiguous U.S. temperature broke the all-time record, set only back in December 2015, of 39.3°F, 6.7°F above average.
There were, by far, more record warm temperatures set in 2021 than cold record temperatures. In fact, Maine and New Hampshire set their second all-time warmest years on record, while an additional 19 states recorded a top-five warmest year.
It goes without saying the record cold temperatures were some for the books. The February winter storms across the South was the coldest weather event observed in 30 years. The winter storms left nearly 10 million people in the dark across 15 states.
Just four months late in June, the heat wave that set up in the Pacific Northwest shattered all-time record highs. Places like Seattle and Portland set all time hottest temperatures on June 27, only to break that record again the following day on the 28th.
A record-warm December across the contiguous U.S. was punctuated by record-warm temperatures across 10 states from the central Plains to the Gulf Coast. An additional 23 states from the Rockies to the East Coast ranked among their top-five Decembers.
The annual precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 30.48 inches, 0.54 inch above average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record. Despite near-normal precipitation at the national scale, there were several regional high precipitation events as well as prolific drought in the West.
Above-average precipitation was observed more from the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast and Northeast, while below-average precipitation favored the West.
Noteworthy precipitation events include the fourth-largest snowstorm in the Front Range region in Colorado and Wyoming in March. Areas like Denver saw their fourth-largest snow event on the 13th and 14th. While Cheyenne, Wyoming reported its heaviest multi-day snow event on record during the same time.
The Desert Southwest saw an active monsoon season for the first time in two years in July. Tucson, Arizona reported its wettest July and month on record, followed by its wettest August on record.
Several strong atmospheric river events from October to December along the West Coast brought significant rains and snows to the drought stricken West Coast. Drought updates have proven these events were beneficial but has not eliminated the drought completely as of writing this. Sierra Nevada range broke December records, in excess of 200% of average at the end of the calendar year.
Billion dollar disasters
There were 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2021, just two events shy of the record set in 2020. These events caused at least 688 people to lose their lives and included eight severe weather events, four tropical cyclone events, three tornado outbreaks, two flooding events, one drought/heat wave event, one winter storm/cold wave event and one wildfire event.
The U.S. disaster costs for 2021 exceeded $145 billion, which is the third-highest cost since record keeping began in 1980.
Hurricane Ida was the most costly event of the year ($75 billion) and ranks among the top-five most costly hurricanes on record (since 1980). The historic mid-February winter storm/cold wave was the costliest winter storm on record ($24 billion) — in inflation-adjusted terms, twice as costly as the Storm of the Century in March 1993.
Climate anomalies and other weather extremes
During 2021, there were 21 named storms that formed in the North Atlantic Basin. This was the third most-active Atlantic hurricane season on record. This was also the sixth year in a row where above average tropical activity occurred in the Atlantic Basin.
Wildfires were active yet again across the western U.S. with more than 7.1 million acres consumed, 96% of the 10-year average.
Snowfall during the 2020-21 snow season was consistently below average across the Sierra Nevada range and parts of the northern Rockies. Several rounds of winter storms that began in January that lasted through the cold air outbreak and winter storms in the South brought record snow coverage to the Lower 48. By FEb. 16, snow covered 73.2% of the contiguous U.S — the highest daily value in the historical record.
The 2021 preliminary tornado count was above average across the contiguous U.S. with 1,376 tornadoes reported. One hundred ninety-three December tornadoes were confirmed by early January 2022 — the greatest number of tornadoes for any December on record and nearly twice the previous record of 97 in 2002, these mostly occurred across the South and include the deadly long-track tornado from Arkansas to Kentucky.