Warm start pushes 2012 near annual Columbia record

12/26/2012 12:00 AM

12/26/2012 8:19 AM

Famously Hot Columbia was stealthily hot in 2012.

Unless a major cold spell hits in the final days, this year will go down as one of the two hottest on record in Columbia.

That might surprise some longtime residents. There were a couple of scorching weeks in late June and early July – including record-breaking highs of 109 on June 29 and June 30 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport and an all-time state record of 113 at USC on June 29 – but the rest of the summer was mild in central South Carolina terms.

But it was warmer temperatures in normally colder months that lifted the entire year’s average.

“People tend to notice and remember a string of 100-degree summer days more than they notice and remember high 60s and low 70s in January, February and December,” said USC geography professor Greg Carbone. “Every day contributes equally to a yearly average, but it is a lot easier for a January day to be 20 degrees higher (than average) than a July day.”

Carbone also noted that people don’t tend to notice when daily lows are warmer than normal. The daily average temperature is determined by adding the daily high and the daily low and dividing by two. The average daily temperature for 2012 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport was 67.0 through Dec. 23.

Since Columbia records began being kept by the National Weather Service in 1887, the previous highest annual daily average was 66.9 in 1990. The rest of the top five were 66.4 in 1933, 66.3 in 2011 and 66.2 in 1939.

The monthly average has been more than two degrees higher than normal in six months of 2012 – January, February, March, April, May and July.

If people didn’t notice the unusual warmth, many other critters certainly did, most notably mosquitoes.

“It was a crazy year, and it was reflected in the natural world,” said USC naturalist Rudy Mancke. “Usually, after we have a spring warm-up, the mosquitoes come out. Then a final cold snap wipes them out. This year, there never was a final cold snap.”

And in a relatively dry year, the one wet period was from mid-May through mid-July, the ideal time for mosquito reproduction.

One result: Our worst year ever for mosquito-borne West Nile virus. State health officials reported 29 lab confirmed West Nile cases in humans in 2012. The worst previous year saw six human cases in 2003.

On the positive side, the short blast of rainy weather came at an ideal time for many summer farm crops. And the warm spring encouraged many bird species to nest early. Some bird species went through two brood cycles this year, and some flowering plants bloomed twice, Mancke said.

“Nature rolls with the punches, so I’m not too worried about it,” Mancke said.

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