COLUMBIA — Missouri had its warmest year on record in 2012, according to MU climatologists.
The year could also rank among the 10 driest on record and could be the driest since 1980, MU climatologist Pat Guinan said.
Anthony Lupo, a professor in MU’s atmospheric science department, said that a 2010 La Nina — a variation of sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean that disrupts weather patterns — caused last year's warm weather.
“This led to summer 2011 and especially summer 2012 being very hot," he said. "We’ve seen this type of thing before in the early to mid-1950s and 1930s."
Since the spring of 2010, only a handful of months have included below-normal temperatures in Missouri, Guinan said. In March 2012, temperatures were an "incredible" 14 degrees above normal, he said.
Lupo pointed to the warm weather as a cause of the drought last summer.
“What we need to be concerned about is a double-header; that is, a hot summer in 2013,” Lupo said. “I am afraid this is possible because we have not received the rain we need to recharge the soil.”
Guinan said that evaporation caused by the heat, in combination with low rainfall, caused a “flash drought” in the state, which hurt the farm industry.
Gary Wheeler, vice president of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said the drought affected 60 percent to 70 percent of the Midwest. It is "still affecting the agriculture industry this winter and will throughout 2013," he said.
Richard Swald, 62, who has been farming his entire life in Atchison County, said the heat allowed farmers to work longer than in most years.
“Field farmers usually stop working around Thanksgiving in average years,” Swald said. “But this year, they could stop working in the field in early December.”
However, the drought also led to widespread crop and pasture losses, Guinan said.
Some growers experienced 15 percent to 20 percent decreases in their crop yields because of the drought, Wheeler said.
The drought also caused declining water and hay supplies, which put stress on livestock, Guinan said.
Uniontown dairy farmer Donna Telle said the drought had forced her to cut back on her farm. “I had to sell 12 out of 50 cows because we failed to get enough good quality of corn and hay to feed them,” she said. “They were too expensive.”
Telle, who has 35 years of experience in the dairy industry, said her cows also produced less, and lower quality, milk than in most years.
“We could produce roughly 10 to 15 pounds of milk less per cow than in other years,” Telle said.
Lupo said the warm weather of 2012 is unlikely to last.
“Regardless of whether the climate warms or not, we will still have yearly variations on top of that,” Lupo said. “It is not likely that we’d have three or more brutal summers in a row — at least, we don’t find it in the climate record.”