Congratulations, America. You set a few records last year. To wit, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
- It was the warmest year in the recorded history of the U.S., dating back to 1895.
- The average temperature was a degree warmer than the previous high, in 1998.
- The average temperature in the contiguous U.S. was 55.3 degrees F, 3.3 degrees above the average in the 20th century.
- Precipitation averaged 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below the 20th-century average.
Only lowly Washington state didn’t have one of its 12 warmest years in history.
With 2012, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred within the past 15 years. No month has fallen below the global temperature average since February 1985.
Crouch said natural weather variability was also a factor in the 2012 record.
However, the trend line was clear. In total, 356 new all-time heat records were set last year, compared to just four new all-time lows.
The New York Times notes how remarkable that one-degree difference between 1998 and 2012 is.
[National Climatic Data Center scientist Jake] Crouch pointed out that until last year, the coldest year in the historical record for the lower 48 states, 1917, was separated from the warmest year, 1998, by only 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why the 2012 record, and its one degree increase over 1998, strikes climatologists as so unusual.
In other words, the difference between 2012 and the next-hottest year is one-quarter the difference between that year and the coldest on record. That’s a massive gap.