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Across the U.S., record highs have outpaced record lows by a bigger margin each decade

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Story Highlights

  • Record highs have outpaced record lows by a bigger margin each decade.

  • Even with a record high temperature standing for 100 years, overall temperatures have been on the rise.

  • We include a special section on tropical weather.

Click here for a high-resolution version

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the all-time highest temperature ever recorded on Earth: 134°F, measured in Death Valley, California in July of 1913. The recent extreme heat across the West brought that record back into the spotlight. Even though the 129 degree reading on June 30 of this year fell short of the all-time temperature, it did set a new June record both for Death Valley and for the entire United States.

So in a world with global warming, how does a record stand for 100 years? Even in a warmer world, we will still get natural variability with record lows, just as we got an all-time record high back in 1913 before global warming kicked in. But on average, the number of record highs is outpacing the number of record lows by a bigger margin each decade - as shown in the graphic above. If there was no warming trend, you would see the number of record highs more closely matching the number of record lows over the span of a decade.

A Climate Central report "The Heat Is On" took a closer look at the temperature trend for each state in the contiguous United States two different ways: 1) over the last 100 years (right around the time the Death Valley record was set) and 2) from 1970 on. The findings showed that all but three states (Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama) have warmed over the past century, but even those three states show a temperature rise from 1970 on.

Death Valley hasn’t always held the record, though. Just a year ago, it was stuck firmly in second place behind a 136°F reading taken in El-Aziza, Libya in 1922. But while the Libyan claim was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, meteorologists have always been dubious: the thermometer that took the reading was obsolete technology even back then, while nearby weather stations recorded temperatures 18°F cooler on the same day. Last September, an investigation by the World Meteorological Organization reached a verdict: El-Aziza was bunk; Death Valley rules. Scientists and heat lovers are celebrating that record with festivities at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center this afternoon.


Special Section on Tropical Weather

With Chantal spinning in the Atlantic, we wanted to address the impact of climate change on tropical systems - a subject that is actively being studied by climate scientists.

Certain changes are fairly well understood. Warming sea surface temperatures are likely to lead to an increase in tropical intensity compared to the historical record. With more moisture in the atmosphere, rainfall totals are also likely to increase for individual storms. And the combination of coastal population growth (123 million Americans currently living on the coast with 8 million more expected by 2020) with rising seas will make storm surges more destructive.

Other factors aren’t as well understood. For example, there are questions on how climate change will affect the overall number of tropical storms and hurricanes. Some research has suggested fewer tropical storms are likely to form in the Atlantic basin in the future. However, a study released earlier this week and covered by Climate Central suggests the opposite. (you can find a link to the research below).

Below are some resources that provide more context on the state of the science when it comes to climate change and tropical systems.

1) Graphic Summarizing the Climate Change & Hurricane Connection

Click here for a high-resolution version

2) Extreme Weather Trends: What Do We Know?

Take a look at where our understanding of hurricanes and climate change is in relation to other extreme events.

Click here for a high-resolution version

3) Recent Research and Stories

4) Storms and Energy

You can monitor the effect of tropical systems on energy infrastructure in real time on the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Energy Disruptions map. Learn about Sandy’s immense energy shock in the U.S.

Click here for the interactive map

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