Last year was one for the history books. And it wasn't even close: 2012 beat the previous warm-weather record-holder, 1998, by a full 1°F. That is a landslide, by meteorological standards.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, every one of the Lower 48 states experienced an annual temperature average last year that was higher than its 20th-century average. Nineteen states—including Texas, New York, Ohio and Oklahoma—had their highest annual average temperature on record. And 26 other states had one of their top-10 hottest years ever.
Not Just Hot!
Last year was also unusually dry. The average precipitation total in the continental U.S. was just 26.57 inches. That makes 2012 the 15th-driest year on record.
In July, 61% of the country was experiencing drought conditions. Long dry spells and brutally hot weather set the stage for massive wildfires, and 9.2 million acres of forests burned in 2012.
While 2012 stood out for its high temperatures, it was part of a trend. U.S. temperature records go back to 1895. The last time the continental U.S. had a record cold month was in 1983.
The U.S. is not alone. A new study published in Climatic Change has found that global warming has increased monthly heat records around the globe.
It has also been a year of weather extremes. This winter is China's coldest in nearly 30 years. The Middle East, usually dry, has seen snow and flooding. Australia is suffering through a record-breaking heat wave (see "Fires Down Under," page 3). What will the wild weather do next?
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