[Vision2020] Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S.

Art Deco art.deco.studios at gmail.com
Wed Jan 9 03:40:06 PST 2013

  [image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>

January 8, 2013
Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S. By JUSTIN

The numbers <http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/> are in: 2012, the year of a
surreal March heat wave, a severe drought in the Corn Belt and a huge storm
that caused broad devastation in the Middle Atlantic States, turns out to
have been the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States.

How hot was it? The temperature differences between years are usually
measured in fractions of a degree, but last year’s 55.3 degree average
demolished the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit.

If that does not sound sufficiently impressive, consider that 34,008 daily
high records were set at weather stations across the country, compared with
only 6,664 record lows, according to a count maintained by the Weather
Channel <http://www.weather.com/>meteorologist Guy Walton, using federal
temperature records.

That ratio, which was roughly in balance as recently as the 1970s, has been
out of whack for decades as the country has warmed, but never by as much as
it was last year.

“The heat was remarkable,” said Jake Crouch, a scientist with the National
Climatic Data Center <http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/> in Asheville, N.C., which
released the official climate compilation on Tuesday. “It was prolonged.
That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”

Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in
last year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that
such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global
by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012
was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes
heat extremes more likely.

Even so, the last year’s record for the United States is not expected to
translate into a global temperature record when figures are released in the
coming weeks. The year featured a La
Niña<http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/lanina.html>weather pattern, which
tends to cool the global climate over all, and
scientists expect it to be the world’s eighth- or ninth-warmest year on

Assuming that prediction holds up, it will mean that the 10 warmest years
on record all fell within the past 15 years, a measure of how much the
planet has warmed. Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of
global temperatures that fell below the 20th-century average, because the
last such month was February 1985.

Last year’s weather in the United States began with an unusually warm
winter, with relatively little snow across much of the country, followed by
a March that was so hot that trees burst into bloom and swimming pools
opened early. The soil dried out in the March heat, helping to set the
stage for a drought that peaked during the warmest July on record.

The drought engulfed 61 percent of the nation, killed corn and soybean
crops and sent prices spiraling. It was comparable to a severe drought in
the 1950s, Mr. Crouch said, but not quite as severe as the legendary Dust
Bowl <http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/lanina.html> drought of the 1930s, which
was exacerbated by poor farming practices that allowed topsoil to blow

Extensive records covering the lower 48 states go back to 1895; Alaska and
Hawaii have shorter records and are generally not included in long-term
climate comparisons for that reason.

Mr. Crouch pointed out that until last year, the coldest year in the
historical record for the lower 48 states, 1917, was separated from the
warmest year, 1998, by only 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why the 2012
record, and its one degree increase over 1998, strikes climatologists as so

“We’re taking quite a large step above what the period of record has shown
for the contiguous United States,” Mr. Crouch said.

In addition to being the nation’s warmest year, 2012 turned out to be the
second-worst on a measure called the Climate Extremes
surpassed only by 1998.

Experts are still counting, but so far 11 disasters in 2012 have exceeded a
threshold of $1 billion in damages, including several tornado outbreaks;
Hurricane Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast in August, and, late in the
year, Hurricane
which caused damage likely to exceed $60 billion in nearly half the states,
primarily in the mid-Atlantic region.

Among those big disasters was one bearing a label many people had never
heard before: the derecho<http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/events/svrwx_20120629/>,
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.

For people who escaped both the derecho and Hurricane Sandy relatively
unscathed, the year may be remembered most for the sheer breadth and
oppressiveness of the summer heat wave. By the calculations of the climatic
data center, a third of the nation’s population experienced 10 or more days
of summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Among the cities that set temperature records in 2012 were Nashville;
Athens, Ga.; and Cairo, Ill., all of which hit 109 degrees on June 29;
Greenville, S.C., which hit 107 degrees on July 1; and Lamar, Colo., which
hit 112 degrees on June 27.

With the end of the growing season, coverage of the drought has waned, but
the drought itself has not. Mr. Crouch pointed out that at the beginning of
January, 61 percent of the country was still in moderate to severe drought
conditions. “I foresee that it’s going to be a big story moving forward in
2013,” he said.

Art Deco (Wayne A. Fox)
art.deco.studios at gmail.com
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