The news is in, and it is telling: 2012 was the warmest year on record in the lower 48 states of the U.S.
This is big news, and a clear sign that our world is continuing to experience the effects of climate change/global warming. Back in Oct., we featured an article about the work of Bill McKibben, one of the country’s leading advocates for doing something about climate change, and we showed a video clip with Bill McKibben talking with Bill Maher.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 was a full degree warmer than 1998, which was the previous record holder. That may not sound like a lot, but temperature differences in years are usually measured in fractions of a degree.
And if you still think that one degree is not a lot, there were also 34,008 new daily high records set at weather stations across the country, compared with only 6,664 new record lows.
Globally, scientists expect 2012 to be the eight or ninth warmest year on record, which means that the 10 warmest years on record all have fallen within the past 15 years, a measure of how much the planet has warmed.
And scientists warned that 2012 was likely a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.
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. The drought is still considered ongoing.
In addition to being the nation’s warmest year, 2012 turned out to be the second-worst on a measure called the Climate Extremes Index, 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 Sandy, 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, 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. New York, Boston, Washington, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Denver, Des Moines, and Chicago also set records for their warmest year.
Marquette, Michigan, which is well-known for its cold and snowy winters, not only set a record for the warmest year, but also set a record for the amount of days above freezing in a single year, with 293 such days, and the number of consecutive days above freezing with 237.
Des Moines had its first year in which the weather never reached 0 degrees F. In addition, March had the largest monthly temperature departure from average of any month on record, coming in at 16.4 degrees F. above average.acc