2012 the warmest and second most extreme year on record for the U.S.


The U.S. government reported the average U.S. temperature in 2012 was 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average, and 2012 was the second worst on the Climate Extremes Index. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the data reflect a longer-term trend of hotter, drier, and potentially more extreme weather. Al Jazeera English asked us: is the goal of keeping global warming below 2o C slipping out of reach?

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, State of the Climate: 2012 was warmest and second most extreme year on record for the contiguous U.S.

Justin Gillis, New York Times: Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S.

The numbers 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 [48 states, not including Alaska and Hawaii].

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. …

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. …

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post: 2012 hottest year on record in contiguous U.S., NOAA says

Temperatures in the contiguous United States last year were the hottest in more than a century of record-keeping, shattering the mark set in 1998 by a wide margin, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The average temperature in 2012 was 55.3 degrees, one degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. They described the data as part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier and potentially more extreme weather.

The higher temperatures are due in part to cyclical weather patterns, according to the scientists. But the researchers also said the data provided further compelling evidence that human activity — especially the burning of fossil fuels, which produces greenhouse gases — is contributing to changes in the U.S. climate.

The new report has broad ramifications for policy — and everyday life. Americans who might have thought climate change was a problem for the distant future are experiencing warmer temperatures in their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.” …

In 2009, the world’s leaders pledged to keep global temperatures from rising above pre-industrial levels by two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Now many experts say that goal may be out of reach. …

Despite researchers’ concerns, global carbon emissions continue to rise. The International Energy Agency estimated last month that coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source in 2017 , when an additional 1.2 billion metric tons will be burned annually. In late November, the World Resources Institute reported there are nearly 1,200 proposed coal plants around the globe, three-quarters of which are planned for China and India. …

We had an opportunity to say a few words in response to questions on the Al Jazeera English News Hour, January 8:

Nick Clark, AJE:  Severe wildfires continue to burn through parts of Australia for a sixth day. The flames have already scorched thousands of hectares in New South Wales. Firefighters are working all hours to try to contain the damage. There are more than a hundred fires threatening homes and property. High temperatures and strong winds have provided the perfect conditions for the fires.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says it believes that climate change is behind the country’s current heat wave. It’s had to add two colors – deep purple and pink – to its weather chart to show temperatures higher than 50 degrees [C][122o F]. On Monday a new national average maximum temperature was set at 40.33 degrees. Already 2013 has had six of Australia’s 20 hottest days on record.

And new data from the United States shows that 2012 was the warmest year on record. The red dots you’re looking at there on the map of the U.S. show places that had the hottest days ever last year. There are quite a few of them, as you can see. And these high temperatures led to other extreme weather conditions, including droughts and wildfires.

Let’s speak to Rick Piltz, the director and founder of Climate Science Watch, who joins us now from Washington, DC.

So, it seems that extremes are the new normal.

RP: Yes, I think the climate system is responding to the global warming trend that results from our burning of coal, oil, and natural gas – the fossil fuels. And one of the main ways that shows up is in extremes – the heat waves are hotter, the droughts, and so forth.

AJE: Is it really possible that mankind is solely responsible for these extreme conditions? Are we not in a natural cycle as well?

RP: You have both. Of course there’s natural variability in the weather. But I think the most appropriate way to look at it now is that human-caused climate change is a component of this weather variability. Now, how to parse all that out is a complex set of scientific research questions that the climate science community is working on. But human-caused climate change is embedded in natural variability now – so droughts are likely to be more severe.

What we see in the western U.S. during the last year with the severe drought is consistent with what we expect in a warming world. Similarly, the wildfires that burned 14,000 square miles in the western U.S., and what you’re seeing in Australia now, are consistent with what we expect in a warming world.

AJE: The aim, as you know, is to keep global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade above the preindustrial level. Is that becoming out of reach, do you think?

RP: I think it’s really a stretch to do that now, given the trajectory that the world is on. How you effectively solve the climate change problem while at the same time allowing equitable sustainable development in the developing countries, the less-developed countries, is a huge problem.

The U.S., with Hurricane Sandy and the drought, has a huge economic impact already from this. But some of the worst impacts will be felt in the low-income developing countries – that are not really driving the problem, and have fewer resources to protect themselves with.

How to bring people up out of poverty, and at the same time move toward a clean energy system that will prevent long-term disastrous climate change?

AJE: OK Rick Piltz, appreciate that, thanks very much.

Would have liked an additional question or two about U.S. policy implications and climate change preparedness.

See also:

Joe Romm, Climate Progress: Off-The-Charts Heat Wave Brings Australia Its Hottest Average Temperature And New Map Colors For Temps Above 122°F!


The Age (Australia): Get used to record-breaking heat: bureau

Media Matters: STUDY: Warmest Year On Record Received Cool Climate Coverage

Earlier posts:

Al Jazeera purchase of Current could improve U.S. TV coverage of climate and global environmental politics

NOAA-led study: ‘Arctic amplification’ could add to U.S. and European weather extremes


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1 Response to 2012 the warmest and second most extreme year on record for the U.S.

  1. Tony O'Brien says:

    Two degrees is wishful thinking. A well blown target once the lags and aerosol caused global dimming are taken into account. Then we have the feedbacks that are well ahead of schedule such as sea ice and snow cover loss. Then there are the feedbacks we have not yet taken into account such as tree loss, phytoplankton loss and the proportion of the permamelt that will come out as methane.

    Keep on as we are and we could well end up adding ourselves to the list of extinct species. Too dire a prediction? Yet we are changing the forcings so much quicker than the lead up to the PETM.

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