2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous U.S. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In a report posted on its web site, NOAA said the average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, or 3.2°F above the 20th century average and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year on record. The agency added that 2012 was the second “second extreme weather” year on record based in on its Climate Extremes Index which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation as well as storms.
“2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms,” it said, noting that there were 11 disasters that caused at least $1 billion in losses. The costliest disaster in 2012 was superstorm Sandy, which caused massive devastation in New Jersey and New York.
NOAA said that 2012 was the 15th driest year on record with 26.57 inches of average precipitation for the contiguous U.S. or 2.57 inches below average.
“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,” the agency stated. “The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres — the third highest on record.”
2012 included the hottest month ever recorded: July, when the average nationwide temperature was 76.9°F. Overall, the summer average temperature was 73.8°F.
“An estimated 99.1 million people experienced 10 or more days of summer temperatures greater than 100°F, nearly one-third of the nation’s population,” said NOAA.
Alaska bucked the nationwide trend with cooler temperatures and slightly wetter than average conditions during 2012. Meanwhile Hawaii suffered through a long drought.
NOAA did not attribute the drought or record-setting heat to climate change, but the conditions are consistent with those forecast in climate models. However a report published in November by the American Meteorological Society linked climate change to extreme weather events.
“2011 will be remembered as a year of extreme events, both in the United States and around the world,” Kathryn D. Sullivan, deputy administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, said in a press release issued at the time of publication. “Every weather event that happens now takes place in the context of a changing global environment.”