U.S. suffers warmest March, breaking over 15,000 record temperatures

Jeremy Hance
April 11, 2012

NASA map shows temperature anomalies from March 13-19, 2012 as compared to the same eight day period during the past 12 years. The map is based on data captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra satellite. Click to enlarge.

March was the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. with record-keeping going back to 1895, according to new data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the month wasn't just a record-breaker, it was shockingly aberrant: an extreme heatwave throughout much of the eastern and central U.S. shattered 15,272 day and nighttime records across the U.S. In all March 2012 was 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous warmest March in 1910, and an astounding 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average for March in the U.S.

According to the NOAA, forty-four of these records were broken not by a few degrees, but by over 22 degrees Fahrenheit. One record in Canada was broken by 33.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climate scientists have become increasingly outspoken about the role of climate change in such extreme weather events. While it is not yet possible for researchers to conclusively say a single weather event was caused by climate change, scientists are becoming more confident that climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events and their severity as well. They call this "loading the dice" of extreme weather events.

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that it is "likely" anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change has lead to overall warming in daily temperature highs and lows, noting that it is "virtually certain" this will continue throughout the century.

But, many climatologists are even less circumspect than the IPCC. A recent review paper in Nature Climate Change found "strong evidence" of a link between our warming world and extreme weather, notably droughts, floods, and heatwaves.

"Recent years have seen an exceptionally large number of record-breaking and destructive heatwaves in many parts of the world. Several recent studies indicate that many, possibly most, of these heatwaves would not have occurred without global warming," the researchers note.

While many enjoyed the unusually warm weather in March, such heatwaves can play havoc with nature with impacts on soil moisture, wildlife migrations, and farming, as many areas have since been hit by a frost.

Global warming science is based on the trending temperature of the whole planet (the U.S. covers only 2 percent of the globe), which is undeniably on the rise. Global temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the the early 20th Century. The past decade (2000-2009) was the warmest on record, while 2010 and 2005 are generally considered tied for the warmest year on record (not 1998 as is often cited). In fact, the Earth hasn't experienced a single year below the 20th Century average since 1975.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (April 11, 2012).

U.S. suffers warmest March, breaking over 15,000 record temperatures.