WASHINGTON (AP) — America set an off-the-charts heat record in 2012.
combination of a widespread drought and a mostly absent winter pushed the
average annual U.S. temperature last year up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit,
the government announced Tuesday. That’s a full degree warmer than the old
record set in 1998.
temperature records by an entire degree is unprecedented, scientists say.
Normally, records are broken by a tenth of a degree or so.
"It was off the
chart,” said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic
Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which calculated the temperature records.
Last year, he
said, will go down as “a huge exclamation point at the end of a couple
decades of warming.”
center’s figures for the entire world won’t come out until next week, but
through the first 11 months of 2012, the world was on pace to have its
eighth warmest year on record.
the U.S. heat is part global warming in action and natural weather
variations. The drought that struck almost two-thirds of the nation and a La
Nina weather event helped push temperatures higher, along with climate
change from man-made greenhouse gas emissions, said Katharine Hayhoe,
director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She said
temperature increases are happening faster than scientists predicted.
do not occur like this in an unchanging climate,” said Kevin Trenberth, head
of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in
Boulder, Colo. “And they are costing many billions of dollars.”
is caused by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which
sends heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air, changing
the climate, scientists say.
with temperatures in the United States is consistent with the long-term
pattern of “big heat events that reach into new levels of intensity,” Arndt
Last year was
3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the entire 20th century. Last July
was the hottest month on record. Nineteen states set yearly heat records in
2012, though Alaska was cooler than average.
records go back to 1895 and the yearly average is based on reports from more
than 1,200 weather stations across the Lower 48 states.
environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, took the
opportunity to call on the Obama Administration to do more to fight climate
According to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 also had the
second-most weather extremes on record after hurricane-heavy 1998, based on
a complex mathematical formula that includes temperature records, drought,
downpours, and land-falling hurricanes.
Measured by the
number of high-damage events, 2012 ranked second after 2011, with 11
different disasters that caused more than $1 billion in damage, including
Superstorm Sandy and the drought, NOAA said.
The drought was
the worst since the 1950s and slightly behind the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,
meteorologists said. During a drought, the ground is so dry that there’s not
enough moisture in the soil to evaporate into the atmosphere to cause
rainfall, which leads to hotter, drier air. This was fed in the U.S. by La
Nina, which is linked to drought.
even with global warming, natural and local weather changes mean that
temperatures will go up and down over the years. But overall, temperatures
are climbing. In the United States, the temperature trend has gone up 1.3
degrees over the last century, according to NOAA data. The last year the
U.S. was cooler than the 20th-century average was 1997.
The last time
the country had a record cold month was December 1983.
scientists so stunned is how far above other hot years 2012 was. Nearly all
of the previous 117 years of temperature records were bunched between 51 and
54 degrees, while 2012 was well above 55.
"A picture is
emerging of a world with more extreme heat,” said Andrew Dessler, a Texas
A&M University climate scientist. “Not every year will be hot, but when heat
waves do occur, the heat will be more extreme. People need to begin to
prepare for that future.”
Climatic Data Center summary of US weather in 2012, http://1.usa.gov/UHhwpx