Characterized by raging wildfires, drought, higher-than-average temperatures and extreme weather, 2012 has earned the dubious distinction of being the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States.
“The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.2°F above the 20th-century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement on January 8. It was a year marked by a “record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn.”
Moreover, it was also the country’s 15th driest year on record, NOAA said, with precipitation at 2.57 inches below average, at 26.57 inches.
“At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 engulfed 61 percent of the nation with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions,” NOAA’s statement said. “The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres—the third highest on record.”
All this combined to make 2012 one of the most extreme years on record for temperature, precipitation and hurricanes making landfall, NOAA said. Coming in at nearly twice the average measure on the scale that NOAA scientists have devised to measure such things, 2012 was second only to 1998.
“To date, 2012 has seen 11 disasters that have reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, to include Sandy, Isaac and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley,” NOAA said. NOAA's National Climatic Data Center of Asheville, North Carolina, released the official climate report on January 8.
“The heat was remarkable,” scientist Jake Crouch of the data center told The New York Times. “It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”
The heat record holds true only for the U.S., not the world, The New York Times pointed out. Over the next few weeks, global temperature records are due to be released, and it is more likely to be the eighth or ninth warmest year because of the La Niña weather pattern that tends to cool things down. However, The New York Times stated, it will still mean that the past 15 years have seen the 10 warmest years on record.
Christopher Burt, a weather historian for the website Weather Underground, told USA Today that 362 all-time record-high temperature records were set across the nation but that there were no all-time record low temperature records set at all, calling that "truly astonishing.”
Such data would only be happening in an era of climate change, scientists said.
"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 Boulder, Colorado, to USA Today. "And they are costing many billions of dollars."