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Four Major Heat Records Fall in Stunning NOAA Report

Four major heat records fell in a stunning new climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday. The lower 48 states set temperature records for the warmest spring, largest seasonal departure from average, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period, all new marks since records began in 1895. While the globe has been tracking slightly cooler than recent years — thanks in part to the influence of now dissipated La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific — the U.S. has been sizzling. 

The average springtime temperature in the lower 48 was so far above the 1901-2000 average — 5.2°F, to be exact — that the country set a record for the largest temperature departure for any season on record since 1895.

Year-to-Date divisional temperature rankings from NOAA. Click on image for a larger version.

Spring 2012 beat 1910, which had held the title for record warm spring, by a healthy margin of 2°F. No doubt much of this was driven by the massive heat wave that gripped the country during March, but unusual warmth continued during April and May, albeit not as intense. Such warming trends are consistent with both the influence of manmade global warming, particularly the prevalence of record warm nighttime temperatures, and natural variability has also favored warmer-than-average conditions so far this year. Studies show that as greenhouse gases continue to increase in the atmosphere, the odds of heat extremes are growing as well.

Climate Extremes Index showing 2012 has had the most extreme weather to date for any year on record. Credit: NCDC.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the spring of 2012 “was the culmination of the warmest March, third warmest April, and second warmest May. This marks the first time that all three months during the spring season ranked among the 10 warmest, since records began in 1895.”

Des Moines, Iowa offers a case study of just how warm it’s been. The year-to-date there has averaged a whopping 8 degrees F above average, with many other cities across the country tracking close to that figure as well.

Temperature trend chart for Des Moines, IA, showing that 2012 is the warmest year to date by far. Click for a larger image. Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Most of the states that experienced record or near-record warmth this spring were located east of the Rocky Mountains, with 31 states setting records for warmest spring temperatures. Remarkably, not a single state in the lower 48 was cooler than average this spring, and only Oregon and Washington had spring temperatures that were close to average. Although there were exceptions, much of the country had a drier-than-average spring with Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Utah, and Wyoming coming in with a top 10 driest spring.

The record warmth helped propel the U.S. Climate Extremes Index, which tracks the highest and lowest 10 percent of extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical storms and hurricanes across the contiguous U.S., to a record-large 44 percent during the March-May period, which was more than twice the average value. “Extremes in warm daytime temperatures (81 percent) and warm nighttime temperatures (72 percent) covered large areas of the nation” were mainly responsible for this record.

Chart showing the warmest 12-month periods on record in the lower 48 states. Click on image for a larger version. Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Spring was unusual for the pre-season tropical weather, as two tropical storms developed before the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1. Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall near Jacksonville, Fla., on May 28, and brought heavy rainfall to parts of the Southeast that were in the grips of a severe drought. This year marked the third time on record that two tropical storms occurred during May in the North Atlantic Basin.

Major drought has remained elsewhere, though, and drought plus high winds led to ideal conditions for wildfires in the West. The White-Water Baldy Fire Complex in New Mexico, which was the result of two separate fires that combined into a massive conflagration, broke the record set just last year for the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.

For more information:

Year-to-date Temperature Anomalies

State-by-State Warmest Seasons and Warmest January to May Data

Comments

By S.F. Brown (Lynnwood, WA)
on June 9th, 2012

I agree with everything Andrew says and support his efforts, but the NOAA map showing Jan.-May differences from average temperatures for each state appears to show that Washington and probably also Oregon had cooler than normal springs.  If so, why say “remarkably, not a single state in the lower 48 was cooler than average this spring”?  Is that because spring is here operationally defined as March-April-May?  If so, the actual temperatures in the Seattle-Tacoma area have been quite lower than normal during that period, as shown here:
http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/climate/temp_graphs.php?stn=KSEA&wfo=sew

Reply to this comment

By Andrew (New York)
on June 9th, 2012

@SF Brown: I see what you’re saying re: the Jan to May map. Yes, spring is defined as March/April/May, and while SEA may have been cooler than avg., Washington and Oregon were not. I am referring to this paragraph in the NOAA/NCDC report:

“Record and near-record warmth dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation during spring. Thirty-one states were record warm for the season, and 11 additional states had spring temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. Only Oregon and Washington had spring temperatures near their average.”

Cheers - A

Reply to this comment

By Lucas (West Richland/WA/99353)
on June 11th, 2012

Go to the original report (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2012/5/supplemental/page-4). The analysis is presented in terms of the contiguous United States (CONUS). Ignore the political boundaries. The climate does. Looking at the US as a whole, Andrew’s point is right-on and consistent with NOAA’s report. Just imagine the first figure without the arbitrary state boundaries and only a mere speck of the NW is colder than average. It is unfortunate that NOAA did not prepare it that way. Likely their intent was merely to help people find their location. Say “lower 48” or CONUS - it’s the same thing. Neither the report nor Andrew state that each and every state set temperature records for the warmest spring.

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