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Nothing to write home aboutDecember 2012 cold par for the course

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Joe Lounge, left, and Jack Madden, both with the Durango Discover Museum, cut a channel Tuesday so melting ice can run off. A combination of single-digit nighttime temperatures and warmth from brilliant daytime sunshine created a several-inch thick lake of ice in front of the museum. Despite what your aging bones may have told you, December 2012 was not particularly frigid compared with past Decembers.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Last month was not particularly cold on average in La Plata County, despite what seemed to be a lot of teeth-chattering mornings and evenings.

Data from the National Climactic Data Center show December average highs and lows from 2005-12 with the exception of 2009 fell into a relatively close range.

The average December highs during the period ranged from 35.4 to 42.8. The average lows ranged from 11.3 to 22.2, and the overall average temperature from 24.1 to 32.5.

In December 2012, the average high was 37.6, the average low 14.1 and the overall average 25.8. The month had one day when the temperature hit zero and five days of below-zero temperatures: minus 5, minus 7, minus 8, minus 10 and minus 14.

In 2009, the exceptional year, the average high was 30.7, the average low was 2.8 and the overall average was 16.8. The month had one day when the mercury reached zero and 14 sub-zero days: minus 1 (three times), minus 2, minus 3, minus 7 (twice), minus 9, minus 11 (twice), minus 12, minus 13, minus 15 and minus 19.

All readings were taken at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, and all are measured in degrees Fahrenheit.

In Durango, the low temperatures were two days at zero and two days of minus 3 degrees. Otherwise, there were 15 days with temperatures in the 20s and six days with the mercury in the teens. There also were days with lows of 4, 7 (twice), 8, 9 and 10.

However, on Dec. 20, the low of minus 3 came within one degree of the all-time low for the date.

Joe Ramey, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction said several factors govern differences in temperatures in communities relatively close to each other.

Elevation is particularly important, especially as regards the minimum temperature, Ramey said. The time of year, snow cover and the direction a slope faces are factors, he said.

The state, as a whole, was warmer than usual in 2012, but not as warm as the six states New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and Utah that border Colorado, the annual National Climatic Data Center report released Tuesday showed.

Colorado was much above normal, report said, but the six bordering states, and about 10 others, recorded record warmth.

The climbing temperatures resulted in the warmest year in the contiguous United States since 1895. The average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees, 3.3 degrees about the 20th-century average.

The average national temperature was 1 degree above the previous high, recorded in 1998. Its a startling increase, Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Climactic Data Center, said in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Given that the difference between the average annual high temperature of 50.1 in 1917 and the average high of 54.3 in 1998 was only 4 degrees, the 1 degree by which 2012 exceeded 1998 is a big step, Crouch said.

Its not clear what roles global warming and local variability played in the increasing temperatures, Crouch said.

The National Climactic Data Center report also said:

Drought continues to plague the Midwest and Mountain West.

A below-average snowpack was observed in much of the West.

Wildfires burned 9.2 million acres nationwide, including 39,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest, in 2012.


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