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How hot was 2012? Hottest on record in US, by a long shot (+video)

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Toward the end of last year, a dearth of water flowing into the Mississippi River threatened to shut down barge traffic along a key section between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. But the US Army Corps of Engineers released water from the Carlyle Lake Reservoir in Illinois, which fed water into the river. The Army Corps also used explosives to pulverize rocks on the river bottom that had become threats to navigation as the water level fell. These two actions, Corps officials say, are expected to keep the Mississippi open to barge traffic through the end of January.

Still, long-term forecasts project river levels falling to historic lows, according to the American Waterways Operators, a trade group for tug, towboat, and barge operators in the US.

In the western US, hot, dry conditions contributed to wildfires that, nationwide, torched 9.2 million acres – the third-largest area affected in the past 13 years. Idaho, Montana, and Oregon were hardest hit, with wildfires covering more than 1 million acres in each state. Colorado experienced its most expensive fire, while New Mexico battled its largest fire on record.

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