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High and Dry

University of Missouri takes on the drought of 2012.

Summer has been painful. As temperatures have hovered at, near or above the 100-degree mark with little or no rain, Missouri, like much of the central United States, is suffering from a significant lack of moisture.

The story of the 2012 Missouri drought began in March with the onset of the warmest spring on record. As the record-setting weather trends continued into August, heat indexes climbed to 110 degrees, radiating the simmer of desert-like heat.

Missouri State Climatologist Patrick Guinan says the state is in “severe or exceptional drought,” something it hasn’t experienced in a generation.

Month after month, cities across Missouri and surrounding states have set new marks for temperature highs and precipitation lows. Missouri’s drought hit southeastern Missouri in April and now extends across the entire state.

Adding to the misery is the magnitude and scope of the drought. More than two-thirds of the nation is in some form of moisture deficit, and July 2012 was the hottest ever recorded in the United States.

“Historic and abysmal,” is Guinan’s description of Missouri’s recent temperature and rain records — a springlike drought that transitioned into a heat wave and drought. “That’s a one-two punch. It’s bad enough having one of those, and we have them back to back,” he says.

Difficult by degree

We may be feeling the heat, but for the record books, the drought of 2012 doesn't begin to challenge the dry years of 1952-56, which Guinan describes as the “mother of all droughts impacting Missouri.” Rainfall during that five-year period averaged nearly 50 inches below normal.

This year's drought is, however, the most severe in recent history.

“This year will become entrenched in our memories for the rest of our life. That shows how unusual our spring and summer have been. It’s heat we haven’t seen in 30 years,” Guinan says.

The five hottest years previously were 1901, 1934, 1936, 1954 and 1980, especially the months of June, July and August. 

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