Top 10 Weather/Climate
Events in 2012

Here is a listing of the top 10 weather and climate events for 2012 in the NWS La Crosse Warning and Forecast Area. This includes areas of southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and southwest/central Wisconsin.

This listing is the result of voting among NWS La Crosse staff members (11), Emergency Management Directors (6), and members of the media (10).

Climate related data and numerous images courtesy of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center (

Updated: 12/27/12 - tjs

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Honorable Mention: May 24 - Severe Storms / EF1 Tornado

Severe thunderstorms moved through much of the region which produced at least one tornado - an EF1 tornado in rural Fayette County, Iowa. The La Crosse NWS office issued 9 warnings as storms progressed through the area.

storm reports from May 24 2012

May 24, 2012 Storm Reports
via the Storm Prediction Center.

Storm damage in rural
Fayette County, IA.

Before and after
views of barn damage.

10. Quiet June

Overall 2012 was a quiet severe weather year with only 2 tornadoes in the La Crosse National Weather Service area. But June 2012 set a new record for the lowest number of warnings during any June with only 13. The previous lowest was June 2003 with only 14 but the average number of warnings during the month of June in the NWS La Crosse service area is 51.

Note: April 2012 was also very quiet with NO warnings issued - a first for the La Crosse NWS office.

9. May 2 - Severe Storms

Severe thunderstorms moved through areas between Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 producing bouts of large hail and swaths of damaging wind. One of the hardest hit areas was in and around Blair and Ettrick in Trempealeau County, WI where trees and numerous buildings were damaged, including the school.

The National Weather Service issued 11 warnings through the event.

An event summary for May 2, 2012 can be found here -

8. June 20 - Heavy Rains / Culvert Washout

The same event that produced devastating flash flooding in Duluth, MN produced a 1 to 2 inch rainfall in parts of north central Wisconsin.  This was enough rain for runoff to bring area creeks and streams up.  While there were no reports of flash flooding, drainage areas over parts of Clark County, WI began to erode away some culverts. One culvert in particular in Scott Creek, along County Road M southwest of Willard, eroded a section of road causing a washout at least 50 feet wide. Two separate cars drove into the chasm overnight killing 3 people total.

Estimated rainfall (from Doppler radar) for mid June 2012.

Washed out section of County Road M (Rural Clark Co.).

Chasm in road southwest of Willard, WI where 3 people in 2 cars perished after driving into gap.
(Photo courtesy of Clark County Emergency Management)

7. September 4-5 - Severe Storms

A late season severe weather event, including 1 tornado, impacted nearly the entire region with a total of 26 warnings. An EF2 tornado hit a farm outside Bloomington, WI (Grant Co.) damaging numerous outbuildings. The tornado was slow moving and may have actually moved toward the northwest across a single property.

In addition to the storm damage, much needed rain (3-4") fell but because it had been so dry, even areas steep with terrain experienced little flooding.

An event summary for Sept.4-5, 2012 can be found here -

Large hail reported near Minnesota City, MN (Winona Co.).

EF2 tornado damage near Bloomington, WI (Grant Co.)
(Photo courtesy of Grant Co. Emerg.Management)

6. Mild Winter (2011-2012)

The winter of 2011-12 went into the record books as the 4th warmest in the United States. Rochester, MN tied the 2nd warmest on record while La Crosse, WI had their 6th warmest.

The mild winter was also a quiet one with only 1-2 storms all season and only 6 counties warned in the La Crosse National Weather Service area.

Temperature departures for
December 1, 2011 through February 29, 2012.

Statewide temperature ranks for
December 1, 2011 through February 29, 2012.

5. December 19-20 Winter Storm/Blizzard

A potent winter storm (and blizzard) marched across parts of Iowa into southern Wisconsin starting the evening of Wed., December 19th and continued through most of the following day (Thurs.). The heaviest snow fell from central Iowa into southern Wisconsin, although another heavy band fell between La Crosse and Eau Claire, WI. Amounts of 8-15 inches were common with some thundersnow, sporadic power outages, and broken tree branches.

Winds also increased as the storm moved through to combine with the heavy snow leading to blizzard conditions in some areas. White out conditions were reported over parts of Iowa where open or flat terrain is more common. Schools remained closed and travel was not advised. It had also been the biggest winter storm for the area since 2010.

An event summary for December 19-20, 2012 can be found here -

Blizzard conditions in northern Iowa.
Photo by Steve Yezek (Grafton, IA).

Regional view of snowfall from Dec.19-20, 2012.

Snow depth after the storm.
(Morning of Dec.21, 2012)

4. Leap Year Storm

The biggest snowstorm of the 2011-12 winter season dropped 14-17 inches over parts of north central Wisconsin on February 28-29th. In fact, the bulk of the heavy snow was along and north of Interstate 94. Scattered power outages were reported. Meanwhile south of there a mix of precipitation fell with some sleet and rainfall totals near an inch. Ponding of water was fairly widespread.

An event summary for February 28-29, 2012 can be found here -

Snowfall totals from Feb.29, 2012.

Weather story graphic preceding storm.

3. July Heatwave

In early July, daytime temperatures reached 95 to 105 creating a dangerous heatwave that led to 5 fatalities in western Wisconsin. Heat index values never really climbed super high (100-110) because the airmass was drier due partially to the on-going drought. A bulk of the heatwave lasted July 2nd through the 6th, including the busy 4th of July holiday. Those that died either did not have air conditioning or the air conditioner had broke.

heat index values from July 6 2012

Excessive Heat Warnings in effect on July 5, 2012. (Map courtesy of NWS Green Bay)

Temperature departures from July 1-10, 2012.

Heat index values on July 6, 2012. (Map courtesy of NWS Green Bay)

2. Record Warmth in March

Unusual early season warmth produced the warmest March on record and an early end to snowfall.  Temperatures for March 2012 were warmer or equal to temperatures felt in April 2012, which is a very rare event.  In excess of 6400 daily records were also set during the month across the upper Midwest.

Click here for a video showing all the records set in March 2012 (Courtesy of NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory) -

The record warmth led to a pre-mature green up on area vegetation.  Given that frosts and freezes are fairly normal in April yet, many area growers (especially fruit trees) suffered substantial crop loss when tree buds were killed by colder temperatures that followed weeks later.

Temperatures compared to normal for March 2012.

Temperature rankings by state for March 2012.

1. Drought (& Warmest July)

The 2012 drought was the most extensive drought to affect the U.S. since the 1930's. Drought conditions affected more than half the country for a majority of 2012 resulting in widespread harvest failure of corn, sorghum and soybean crops, among others. The associated summer heatwave also caused 123 direct deaths (5 in western Wisconsin), but an estimate of the excess mortality due to heat stress is still unknown.  In excess of 3000 daily records were also set during the month across the upper Midwest.

The drought worsened in July 2012 especially (note difference below between June and July 2012 drought levels), reaching EXTREME levels, especially across southern Wisconsin and much of Iowa.  The animation below shows the changes in drought status from May 2012 into November.  The red color is EXTREME drought while the brown color is EXCEPTIONAL.  The extent of the impacts and estimated crop damage costs are unknown but thought to be staggering.

The average temperature in La Crosse, WI for July 2012 was 79.6 deg F, the warmest ever.  Graphics covering temperatures are also shown below.

2012 Drought Animation

Graphic showing the drought status at the end of June (left) compared to late July (right). Animation of the Midwest drought status from May to November 2012. (Red color is EXTREME drought while the brown is EXCEPTIONAL drought)

USDA 2012 Secretarial Designated Drought Disaster counties.

Map showing number of times temperatures reached (or exceeded) 100 deg F in 2012.

Temperatures compared to normal for July 2012.

Temperature rankings by state for July 2012.

Field hit by drought

Typical Midwest field hit by drought in 2012.

Links to previous Top 10: is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.