December 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: Christopher C. Burt , 10:37 PM GMT on January 13, 2012

December 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary

December was a relatively quiet month weather-wise in the United States but a wild one for much of Europe where three major Atlantic storms took a swipe at the region. Some of the month’s highlights include a devastating flood in the Philippines, the warmest temperature yet measured at the South Pole, record dryness in portions of California, and a near all-time record high temperature for Australia.

Below is a summary some of the month’s highlights.


A quiet month with mild temperatures prevailed across much of the United States. December was Alaska’s 3rd warmest such on record. California, Oregon, and Nevada recorded their 2nd driest December on record with several locations in California (Salinas and Fresno) reporting their driest December ever. Snowfall was virtually non-existent in the Sierra Nevada.

A snow survey in California’s Sierra Nevada towards the end of December comes up empty. Normally there should be about 6 feet of snow at this site at this time of the year. Photo Rich Pedroncelli, AP.

Ironically, the only region that had unusual cold and snow was in the interior Southwest (New Mexico, west Texas, and southern Colorado), the same region afflicted by record-breaking heat and drought last summer. Pueblo, Colorado had its snowiest December on record with an 18.6” accumulation. Midland, Texas had 5.8” of snow on December 24th, its 2nd greatest December snowfall on record. Lamar, Colorado (in the state’s southeastern plains) received 19.0” of snow on December 20th, its 2nd greatest 24-hour snow on record (the all-time record remains 22.0” on October 26, 1997, records go back to 1890).

NOAA’s temperature and precipitation ranking maps for December 2011.

The coldest temperature in the northern hemisphere and the world during December was a frigid -80.1°F (-62.3°C) reported at Summit, Greenland on December 5th.


Hot temperatures, drought, and high winds contributed to massive wild fires in Chile’s Magallanes, Bio Bio, and Maule regions. Over 90 square miles of forest was consumed and 100 homes destroyed. One fatality was reported.

In neighboring Argentina the temperature soared to an all-time record high of 108.3°F (42.4°C) at Cordoba, the 2nd largest city in Argentina.


Massive winter storms, three in all, pummeled northern Europe during the month. The first storm dealt a powerful blow to Scotland where a peak wind gust of 164 mph was measured on Cairngorm Summit (altitude about 4,000’) on December 8th.

High winds blew lorries over on Scotland’s A83 highway near Loch Restil on December 8th. Photo credit

The second storm on Dec. 15-18th was one of the most powerful on record in Germany. For details see my blog posted on December 18. A third storm occurred during the last week of the month, mostly affecting Scotland and northern Europe, again with high winds.

The month was one of the warmest January’s on record for most of central and northern Europe, especially in Scandinavia where temperatures averaged almost 10°F above normal.

In the United Kingdom, it was the warmest December since 2006. The temperature extremes for the month ranged from a high of 59.9°F (15.5°C) at Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire on December 26th to a low of 15.1°F (-9.4°C) at Loch Glascarnoch in Scotland on the 18th. The most precipitation measured in a 24-hour period was 2.78” (70.5mm) at Achnagart, Scotland on December 25-26th.


The warmest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere was 104.0°F (40.0°C) at Damazine, Sudan on December 30th.

Very hot weather affected South Africa early in the month when a temperature of 114.0°F (45.5°C) was reported at Vredendal and the tiny island of Europa (a French protectorate off the coast of South Africa) recorded its all-time highest temperature of 96.1°F (35.6°C) on December 7th.


The biggest story of the month was the catastrophic flooding that accompanied Tropical Storm Washi following its passage over the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on December 16-17th. The area is well south of the normal typhoon path so the local population was unprepared for the intense rains the storm produced (up to 8”). At this time the death toll is estimated at between 1,200 and 1,300 making this the deadliest storm-related event in the world for 2011.

Rescuers search for survivors in the Cagayan de Oro region of Mindanao Island in the Philippines following the floods caused by Tropical Storm Washi. Photo from Reuters News Agency.

Another tropical storm, Cyclone Thane struck the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu south of Madras at Pondicherry on December 30-31st killing at least 47. Winds peaked at 90 mph.


In spite of being a cooler than normal month nation-wide, a heat wave just before Christmas brought record temperatures to portions of Western Australia. A maximum of 120.9°F (49.4°C) was measured at Roebourne on December 21st. This was just shy of the all-time national high of 123.3° (50.7°C) set at Oodnadatta, South Australia on January 2, 1960. An all-time record high was set for the town of Onslow as well with 120.6°F (49.2°C) on the same date and at Learmonth with a 120.0°F (48.9°C) reading.

The coolest temperature measured in Australia during December was 23.9°F (-4.5°C) at Mt. Hotham, Victoria on December 5th. The greatest calendar day rainfall was 15.16” (385.0mm) at Edith Falls Ridge, Northern Territory, on December 27th.


The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere during December was -59.4°F (-50.8°C) recorded at Concordia on December 2nd. But the big story for the frozen continent was the all-time record high for the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station when a balmy 9.9°F (-12.3°C) was reported on Christmas Day. Records go back to 1958 at the site. For more details on the event see my blog posted on December 29th.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and Stephen Burt for the U.K. extremes.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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2. SPLbeater
5:34 AM GMT on January 15, 2012
good post Dr. Burt. over the last few years here in central North Carolina i have noticed the decreased numbers of Summer thunderstorms. either that, or 2009 had alot lol.
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.