Climate Change in Pictures 2012

For those of us in the US, there was no shortage of crazy climate-fueled weather stories in 2012: droughts and heatwaves, wildfires, Sandy, a melting Arctic. But like most people, I have a hard time remembering the deluge of records and events that, together, tell the story of climate change.

In the summer, I started a Pinterest page devoted to documenting climate impacts at the state level, made up of news articles, reports, blogs posts, etc. These stories and images illustrate how climate change is already impacting people and wildlife in every part of the country. Here are those that stood out this year, by region:

A WWII ship uncovered by a drought-impacted Mississippi River in December 2012 (TeamSaintLouis/Flickr)
Midwest: The drought of 2012, the worst in decades, has crippled the "Mighty Mississippi" River: it dropped 12 feet below normal in some areas, exposing sunken steamboats on the river bottom and threatening to shut down one of the world's busiest shipping routes. The drought also did a number to farmers, prompting the Department of Agriculture to declare over half the country a disaster zone and lowering the crop yield forecast multiple times. In July, stories of withered harvests were flying from farmers across the breadbasket: from corn in Illinois and wheat in North Dakota to oats in Wisconsin. In Iowa, 37,000 fish were found dead along the Des Moines River because the water got too hot.

A forest ravaged by pine beetles in Colorado (sandrift/Flickr)
West: Colorado's Waldo Canyon Fire got the most news coverage, but damaging fires burned across the West this year. Already by August 2012, the National Interagency Fire Center had declared 2012 the worst year for wildfires in terms of acreage burned. And if fires weren't bad enough, forests in the West continue to die from pine beetle infestation caused by rising temperatures. A three-year study on the Colorado River released in December found that the watershed will be unable to support the region's needs over the next 50 years. In the Southwest, giant dust storms that shut down roads and carry a "noxious mix of fungi, heavy metals, fertilizers and stockyard fecal matter" are becoming more frequent.

Northern Florida's County Line Fire - April 2012 (NASA)
South: Rising temperatures are a threat to infrastructure. In Lynchburg, Virginia, a severe storm that knocked out power to a water treatment plant released partially-treated sewage into the James River. Researchers in both Arkansas and Texas have found fewer ducks and other birds migrating south for the winter and Texas saw its worst West Nile Virus outbreak since 1999 (its 2011 drought alone also cost the state $7 billion). Along the coast, states are bracing for the next big storm; Miami, Florida is seen as being particularly susceptible. And wildfires weren't confined to the West. A wildfire fueled by drought burned 35,000 acres in Florida's Osceola National Forest.

 Breezy Point, NY after Hurricane Sandy and fires (FEMA)
East: Images of the New York subway system and the New Jersey coastline inundated by water pushed inland by Hurricane Sandy are hard to forget. The damage, which is expected to cost NY and NJ alone at least $72 billion to address, was foreshadowed months before when a US Geological Survey report said that sea levels are rising twice as fast along the Atlantic Coast as other areas. Vermont is still recovering from 2011's Hurricane Irene which wiped out 500 miles of roadways and a state hospital there. A warming ocean is leading to problems up and down the coast from a nuclear plant in Connecticut that had to shut down in August to fish fleeing north to cooler waters.

There are hundreds of other stories like these on my Climate Impacts page, from coastal erosion in Alaska and Hawaii to ocean acidification in Oregon. Keep up-to-date with the latest stories by following me here.

And for some more quick summaries of climate impacts in 2012, see the Climate Desk's Year in Review, NRDC's This is What Global Warming Looks Like (videos), Climate Central's list of 2012 extreme weather events, and World Resources Institute's Extreme Weather Timeline.