A city on fire, literally
A city on fire, literally.
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It’s not yet official, but 2012 was the hottest year in American history. Recorded history, that is; we’ll allow climate change deniers the possibility that the United States was hotter when it was a still-forming Pangeal mass of semi-solid lava. Beyond that, though: hottest ever.

This led to a bumper crop of “hottest year ever!” stories in local media last week. Here’s a Google News search for “hottest year.” Among the areas noting that accomplishment: Lexington, Richmond, Topeka, New Jersey, Cleveland and Columbus, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Burlington, Louisville, and New York City. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that its 170,000-odd monitoring stations in the U.S. recorded 24,280 new record highs over the course of 2012, and 9,728 tied highs.

high and tie records in 2012

Here are the records set in January of last year:

jan 2012 records
NOAA

Or, illustrated another way, here’s the percent of land area that saw “very warm” or “very cold” temperatures over the last several years.

very warm areas 2012
NOAA

If that’s too hard to read, here’s how it breaks down: Over the 12 months of 2012, 34.3 percent of the country was unusually warm, on average. Only 0.7 percent was unusually cold.

Which exacerbated and contributed to the — still ongoing — drought. From Weather Underground:

According to NOAA’s monthly State of the Drought report, the 61.8% of the U.S. covered by drought this week was also what we had during July, making the 2012 drought the greatest U.S. drought since the Dust Bowl year of 1939. (During December of 1939, 62.1% of the U.S. was in drought; the only year with more of the U.S. in drought was 1934.) The Great Drought of 2012 is about to become the Great Drought of 2012- 2013, judging by the latest 15-day precipitation forecast from the GFS model.

Consider that. The level of drought in the U.S. right now is equivalent to what we saw in July.

The temperature extremes also continue. Des Moines hasn’t seen a subzero day in almost two years. Washington, D.C., saw its warmest year in history, with December temperatures running 5.6 degrees F above the 1980-2010 normal and a forecast of above-average temperatures to come.

So far this year, NOAA hasn’t recorded any record temperatures at its observation stations. But then: the year is young.