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January 10th, 2013

2012 Officially Warmest Year on Record


If you felt like you had to turn the air conditioner up extra high this past year, you weren’t just imagining things. According to a new study by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the average temperature in the 48 mainland U.S. states in 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the warmest year ever recorded.

Drought made 2012 a hard year for farmers across America. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture 48 percent of the state’s corn crop, like the one in the picture above, was in poor to very poor condition this past summer.

This temperature is 1.0 degree hotter than the previous record set in 1998, and 3.3 degrees above the recorded average temperature of the 20th century. Records on average temperature have been kept since 1895, and show that the U.S. has increased in temperature by about 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since then.

Hawaii and Alaska do not have records going back that far, and are therefore typically excluded from most long-term climate studies.

U.S. passes storm damage record

In addition to rising temperatures, the weather in 2012 passed other milestones, including setting the record for the most storms with damages over $1 billion. According to another NOAA report, the damage from Frankenstorm Sandy, strong winds in the Ohio Valley, wildfires in the western states and a drought that covered most of the middle of the country totaled over $60 billion.

There were 11 storms in all with price tags over the billion-dollar mark.

While scientists say that climate change is playing a role in the erratic weather, Jake Crouch of the National Climatic Data Center at NOAA said that it was impossible to determine which events specifically result from global warming.

However, the Yale Project on Climate Change and Communication found that these disasters influenced how people viewed the subject, with one October survey showing the 74 percent of Americans believed that climate change was at least in part to blame.

See a photo essay on some of the year’s most notorious weather events below.


How hot is hot?

A one degree temperature change may not seem like much, but Crouch told the New York Times that “The heat was remarkable. It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”

According to Guy Walton, a Lead Forecaster at the Weather Channel, 2012 saw 362 all-time high temperature records either tied or set, while 0 all-time low temperatures were tied or set.

However, while 2012 was a record for the U.S., the world as a whole experienced only the eighth or ninth warmest year on record. The final numbers on global temperatures will be released in the coming weeks, but if they do confirm the predictions, it will mean that the 10 warmest years on record will all have occurred in the last 15 years.

–Compiled by Allison McCartney for NewsHour Extra

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