United States Experienced Hottest Year On Record In 2012
January 9, 2013

2012 Was The Hottest Year On Record For The United States: NOAA

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A mild winter followed by a long, sweltering summer with widespread drought made 2012 the warmest year on record for the continental United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Tuesday.

The average annual U.S. temperature rose to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit last year, one degree warmer than the previous record set in 1998 and 3.2 degrees warmer than the 20th century average, the federal agency reported.

“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,” NOAA said.

The two remaining U.S. states -- Alaska and Hawaii -- saw a mixed picture in 2012, with Alaska slightly cooler and wetter than normal, and nearly two-thirds of Hawaii experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions.

But in every state in the contiguous U.S., temperatures were above-average last year, with 19 states setting annual records.

“It was off the chart," said Deke Arndt of the National Climatic Data Center, which calculated the temperature records.

Last year will go down as "a huge exclamation point at the end of a couple decades of warming,” he told The Associated Press.

The U.S. was also hit last year with 11 weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion in losses each, including a persistent drought that involved as much as 61% of the country at its peak in July.

The drought devastated crops in the farm belt, and brought catastrophic wildfires to the mountain West, destroying hundreds of homes and scorching 9.2 million acres of land — the third highest on record.

“The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record for the nation,” NOAA reported.

The crop damage from the drought may even hurt consumers in the wallet this year, with the U.S. Agriculture Department predicting higher food prices as a result of the scorching summer.

Finally, there was Superstorm Sandy in late October, which wrought havoc in the Northeast, killing more than 110 people and causing damages of $80 billion in New York and New Jersey alone.

NOAA´s report will likely trigger new worries over global warming, given that seven of the ten warmest years since records began being kept (in 1895) have occurred since 1990, according to NOAA figures.

Scientists attribute global warming to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, which sends heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, changing the climate.

"These records do not occur like this in an unchanging climate," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in an interview with The Associated Press.

"And they are costing many billions of dollars."

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, told the AP that last year´s record heat was the result of a combination of global warming and natural weather variations. The drought, a La Nina weather event, and climate change from man-made greenhouse gas emissions worked together to push temperatures higher, she said.

During a drought, the ground is so dry that it lacks enough moisture to evaporate into the atmosphere to cause rainfall, leading to hotter, drier air. In 2012, this was fed in the U.S. by La Nina, which is linked to drought.

NOAA´s full 2012 “State of the Climate” report can be viewed here.