Minnesota experienced its third-warmest year on record in 2012 and was relatively warmer than the nation as a whole.

While the U.S. average temperature for the year was 3.2 degrees above the average going back to 1895, the 2012 average for Minnesota was more than 4 degrees above average. The year was the warmest on record for the continental United States.

Several of Minnesota's Great Plains neighbors -- South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois, as well as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas -- were among 19 states that recorded their warmest years.

Minnesota appeared to finish 2012 having dodged the drought bullet, with precipitation that was close to normal. But state climatologist Greg Spoden said that was misleading.

A wet spring and a torrential rain in northeast Minnesota in June disguised the fact that much of the state, particularly the southwest and northwest corners, was in severe or extreme drought for much of the year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Parts of south central Minnesota are 10 or more inches short of normal precipitation since mid-June.

"It's like having one hand in the oven and the other in the refrigerator and saying you're comfortable," Spoden said.

Nebraska had its driest year on record; Iowa's was 11th-driest.

The lack of soil moisture could be a serious problem this spring, Spoden added.

The National Climate Prediction Center is offering an uncertain outlook for January, February and March for Minnesota, calling for equal chances of normal, above normal or below normal temperature and precipitation.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646