A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

The Record Summer of 2011: You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet

In case you didn’t notice, this past summer was hot. June, July, and August were the warmest three months in the U.S. since the catastrophic Dust Bowl era in the 1930's. Texas got the worst of it: the state’s average temperature was 86 ºF, about a degree and a half warmer than any state has ever been during the summer.

The map below, created by the High Plaines Regional Climate Center, shows just how much hotter than normal it was. Parts of the West Coast were actually a bit cool, but other areas were so scorchingly hot — parts of Texas and Oklahoma, for example, were 10 degrees above average — that the U.S. as a whole was 2.5 ºF hotter than it is during a normal summer.

But summers of the future are likely to make this year look mild by comparison.

The next map, courtesy of Climate Wizard, was generated by averaging 16 different climate models. It shows what the average June, July, and August could look like during the 2080s if we continue to add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere unabated.  

Take a moment to compare these two maps. The first shows the second warmest summer since we started keeping records 117 years ago. The second shows what will be considered “average” later this century. The bottom line:  A typical summer later this century could be significantly hotter than a record-setting summer today. And since some summers will be hotter than average then, just as they are now, it will sometimes be even worse than that.

Plenty of research supports this idea, including a paper by Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. Climate Central’s Alyson Kenward discusses this in more detail here.

You can explore projected temperatures on the “Climate Wizard” interactive below, which was originally developed by The Nature Conservancy in collaboration with several research institutions (feel free to embed it on your website. You can choose how much greenhouse-gas pollution we might generate over the next few decades and see how those gases affect temperatures and average precipitation. 

 

 

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