The United States endured the hottest year on record during 2012, according to information released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center on Jan. 9.
“2012 was warmest and second most extreme year on record for the contiguous U.S.
“2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms”
reports the State of the Climate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center
The average temperature recorded was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, a full degree higher than the previous record hottest year, 1998.
“2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States with the year consisting of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn.
“The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year.”
the report continued. 2012 was also the 15th driest year on record with just 26.57 inches of rain falling during the year, 2.57 inches below the average. This provided the ideal canvas for a year of rampant wildfires in the West, which left 9.2 million acres charred and smouldering. This was the third highest result on record.
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There were 34,008 daily record high temperatures set compared to only 6,664 record low temperatures according to Weather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton on the Weather Channel blog. That ratio of more than 5 record highs for every record low has been out of kilter since the 1970’s as the temperature trend has increased with global warming. Never has it been quite as pronounced as in 2012, however. Until 2012, the gap between the coldest year recorded for the 48 contiguous, lower states, 1917 and the hottest year has remained within 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit, making the further one degree rise even more meaningful and concerning to climatologists.
“We’re taking quite a large step above what the period of record has shown for the contiguous United States,” said Jake Crouch, a scientist with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
2012 was also the second-most extreme year on record, beginning with a remarkably warm winter resulting in very little snow falling across much of the country. Snowfall was the third smallest on record and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies were less than half of normal. Spring was particularly warm, registering at 5.2°F above average, making the warmest spring on record by a large margin of 2.0°F, which triggered an early start to the growing season, however, things did not end well for most farmers.
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The year was marked by a blistering heat wave in March, which continued through to a drought which affected 61% of the country and peaked during the warmest July on record devastating the Corn Belt and demolishing crop yields and the finances of farming families, particularly across the Mountain West, Great Plains and Midwest regions. As the year approached its end we saw the devastatingly violent Hurricane Sandy which swept through the Caribbean and Mid-Atlantic and North-Eastern United States and causing lesser but still significant damage to Canada and South-Eastern and Mid-Western United States. The damage left many wondering whether climate change and anthropogenic global warming were contributing to the devastation seen throughout the year.
“The heat was remarkable,”
Mr. Crouch said.
“It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”
What is most remarkable, is that these record high temperatures have occurred amidst a global cooling period, known as the La Nina weather pattern.
“Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average annual temperature for 2012. Nineteen states had a record warm year and an additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest.” the report said.
Natural variability is likely to have contributed towards the weather conditions, however scientists are in agreement that the marked extremes seen would not have come to pass without the background of anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming. Scientists are warning that the events experienced in 2012 are a likely portent of things to come with the weather events becoming more and more extreme and damaging as the Earth’s temperatures rise if the increase in greenhouse gases continues.
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Scientists are expecting 2012 to be around the eigth- or ninth-warmest year on record, globally, once the results are tallied up and published in the next few weeks.
The last time that global temperatures fell below the 20th-century average for a whole month, was February 1985, meaning that anyone under the age of 28 has only ever experienced a warmer world. In fact, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred during the past 15 years, a further indication of a global warming trend.
The drought was comparable to a severe drought in the 1950s, although not quite as severe as the legendary Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s, which was exacerbated by poor farming practices that allowed topsoil to blow away and came at a time when the country was struggling through the Great Depression. Although coverage of the drought has ceased as the growing season has come to an end, 61% of the country is still experiencing mild to moderate drought conditions.
According to a measure called the Climate Extremes Index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, 2012 was nearly twice the average value of the index and surpassed only by 1998 for environmental events. Although the bills are still coming in, 11 disasters occurring during 2012 have exceeded a $1 billion damages threshold. There were several tornadoes in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley as well as Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy.
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Tropical cyclone activity across the North Atlantic in 2012 was above-average with 19 named storms, ten hurricanes, and one major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger).
The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado destroyed nearly 350 homes and was the most destructive fire on record for the state.
The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire charred nearly 300,000 acres and was the largest on record for New Mexico.
Among those big disasters was one bearing a label many people had never heard before: the derecho, a line of severe, fast-moving thunderstorms that struck central and eastern parts of the country starting on June 29, killing more than 20 people, toppling trees and knocking out power for millions of households, reported the New York Times on Jan. 9 in an article entitled “Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S.”
Over one third of the nation’s population experienced 10 or more days throughout the summer where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Nashville; Athens, Ga.; and Cairo, Ill., all set new record high temperatures, hitting 109 degrees on June 29; Greenville, S.C., did too when it hit 107 degrees on July 1; and Lamar, Colo., which joined the club by reaching a lofty 112 degrees on June 27.
With the Doha climate change talks just concluded and the leader of the World Bank warning of the dangers of climate change to our global economy, and our moral responsibility to less fortunate nations, we begin the year hoping that we have learnt from our mistakes and that we have the intelligence and will to turn our course around.
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