The omens were not good for Derby, already relegated and desperately trying to scrape another five points to pass the Premiership's lowest points tally of 15, held by Sunderland.
Everton had conceded only five goals in 2008 and had seven clean sheets.
The home side, who welcomed back Andy Johnson to partner Yakubu in attack, might have gone ahead in the opening minute when Rams defender Dean Leacock headed towards his own goal, but the ball went into the turf and just cleared the bar.
Derby, to their credit, were full of honest endeavour throughout and they hit back on the break when Mile Sterjovski's first-time angled drive was neatly pushed aside by Howard.
Back at the Derby end, a Leighton Baines cross from the left somehow squeezed through a sea of players and found Yakubu on the far post, but the burly striker clumsily prodded over from five yards with the goal at his mercy.
But as the hailstones belted down, Osman waltzed through the space, collected an astute through ball from Fernandes and drove a fierce left-foot shot past Roy Carroll from just inside the area.
Osman on his right foot was then denied by an outstretched hand from the Northern Irish goalkeeper, who also did well to keep out a dipping 20-yarder from Fernandes.
Only the one goal down, Derby were still very much in the match and a neat dummy from Kenny Miller created a golden opportunity for Emanuel Villa.
Roy Carroll is helpless as Leon Osman fires the 56th minute Everton winner
Everton were convinced he was offside but he was clearly on and raced through on goal, but could only prod weakly and the advancing Howard was able to block.
Despite sill retaining the majority of possession, the Toffees could not turn a host of useful half-chances into killer second goals.
In the end they were relieved to hear the final whistle and tick off another victory, leaving them three points behind neighbours Liverpool.
It remains to be seen whether Derby can beat the points record, but they have one unwanted statistic now associated with them - 27 successive Premiership matches without a win.
Everton manager David Moyes: "It was not a terrific display, but we have had some great performances at home this season and are still in with a shout.
"We are optimistic, we believe we can still catch Liverpool.
"That's 60 points and we have won 18 games in the Premier League, and with five to go we can end with a very healthy tally in an excellent position."
Derby manager Paul Jewell:
"If we'd played like that all season we probably wouldn't be where we are.
"For passing and movement we were excellent, we just didn't have the killer pass. We didn't have the quality at times but I couldn't ask for more from the players.
"We pushed Everton all the way and I'm pleased with the performance, just disappointed not to get something out of the game.
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