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You wouldn't know it by sticking your head outside the door this week, but the calendar year just ended in Flagstaff really was the fifth warmest on record.

In fact, according to data just compiled and released by the National Weather Service in Bellemont, it was even warmer just to the east of us -- Winslow saw its hottest year ever.

Ten of the last 12 months had average temperatures (daily highs vs. lows) above normal, with only February and December falling below normal. Last year's January thaw was about 4 degrees warmer than usual, as was June.

And not only was it warm but it was dry -- precipitation was down 7 inches, or nearly 32 percent, in 2012.

The latter is not all that unusual recently -- dry years have well-outnumbered wet years since 2000.

But compared with 2010, when Flagstaff saw a giant blizzard, a massive wildfire, historic floods and damaging tornadoes, the year just past was relatively tame.

That's especially true when Flagstaff's weather year is set against the wildfires, blistering heat and drought that wracked other parts of the country, followed by devastating Superstorm Sandy in November.

Globally, five countries recorded all-time record high temperatures, while none had their coldest. Climate scientists who had been predicting extreme weather events several years ago saw those predictions come true in 2012.

July was the hottest month in record-keeping U.S. history, averaging 77.6 degrees. Over the year, more than 69,000 local heat records were set -- including 356 locations in 34 states that hit their highest-ever temperature mark.

But the most troubling climate development this year was the melting at the top of the world. Summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank to 18 percent below the previous record low. The normally ice-packed Arctic passages were open to shipping much of the summer, more than ever before. In Greenland, 97 percent of the surface ice sheet had some melting. Changes in the Arctic alter the rest of the world's weather and the melting of the ice amplifies the warming.

"Take any one of these events in isolation, it might be possible to yell 'fluke!' Take them collectively, it provides confirmation of precisely what climate scientists predicted would happen decades ago if we proceeded with business-as-usual fossil fuel burning, as we have," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said in an email to the Associated Press. "And this year especially is a cautionary tale. What we view today as unprecedented extreme weather will become the new normal in a matter of decades if we proceed with business-as-usual."

Bottom line: Flagstaff shouldn't count on too many more years without several extreme weather events of its own, given the quickening pace of global warming. We might think it's cold outside today. But summer, for Flagstaff as well as the rest of the world, is likely to arrive sooner than we think.

Our view:Flagstaff's record-breaking weather eventsof 2012 were few, unlike around the rest of the globe


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