NOAA: 2012 hottest year on record in continental U.S. #COdrought

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Here’s the link to the National Climatic Data Center Annual State of the Climate National Overview for 2012. Click through for all the details. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2012, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average annual temperature of 55.3°F was 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and was the warmest year in the 1895-2012 period of record for the nation. The 2012 annual temperature was 1.0°F warmer than the previous record warm year of 1998. Since 1895, the CONUS has observed a long-term temperature increase of about 0.13°F per decade. Precipitation averaged across the CONUS in 2012 was 26.57 inches, which is 2.57 inches below the 20th century average. Precipitation totals in 2012 ranked as the 15th driest year on record. Over the 118-year period of record, precipitation across the CONUS has increased at a rate of about 0.16 inch per decade.

On a statewide and seasonal level, 2012 was a year of both temperature and precipitation extremes for the United States. Each state in the CONUS had annual temperatures which were above average. Nineteen states, stretching from Utah to Massachusetts, had annual temperatures which were record warm. An additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest years. Only Georgia (11th warmest year), Oregon (12th warmest), and Washington (30th warmest) had annual temperatures that were not among the ten warmest in their respective period of records.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Most of the country was drier than average in 2012, reflected by the worst drought in the central part of the country since the 1950s.

Looking back, the winter of 2012 (Dec. 2011 – March 2012) was the fourth-warmest on record despite lingering La Niña conditions in the Pacific, with the third-smallest seasonal snowpack on record.

The spring season brought record warmth to nearly the entire country, with the warmest March, the fourth-warmest April and the second-warmest May on record.

Autumn (Sept. – Nov.) brought a return to somewhat more average readings, but the season still ranked as the 22d-warmest on record, with warm conditions in the West, but cooler than average readings along the Eastern Seaboard.

From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin):

Federal scientists said that the data were compelling evidence that climate change is affecting weather in the United States and suggest that the nation’s weather is likely to be hotter, drier and potentially more extreme than it would have been without the warmer temperatures.

Last year’s record temperature is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Americans can now see the sustained warmth over the course of their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before.” He added, “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.”[...]

Vanderbilt Law School professor Michael Vandenbergh said today’s leaders will be judged harshly by future generations for not focusing on climate change.

“A hundred years from now, they’re not going to be talking about health care or the fiscal cliff,” he said. “But they will ask, ‘What did you do when we knew we were going to have serious climate change?’ ”[...]

…many experts are engaged in a discussion over whether they should continue pressing for ambitious carbon cuts in the near term or adjust their goals in the face of the prospect of a much warmer world.

In 2004, Princeton University professors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala wrote an influential paper outlining how the world could stabilize its greenhouse emissions by mid-century through a series of “wedges,” using current technology, such as sharply increasing nuclear power worldwide, eliminating deforestation and converting conventional plowing to no-tillage farming.

Now, Socolow has published an article in the Vanderbilt Law Review that he describes as his “let’s get real here” lecture, in which he outlines what the world can realistically achieve over the next four decades. Environmentalists “don’t think it’s time to start the bargaining” on what’s an appropriate climate target, Socolow said, but they need to adjust some of their goals in light of the projected temperature rise.

Compromises include capturing and storing carbon from power plants, he added, “since I don’t think we can put the fossil fuel industry out of business.”

At the same time, some researchers are pushing for much steeper emissions cuts. On Wednesday, the journal Environmental Research Letters will publish a paper showing that although Socolow and Pacala projected emissions could be stabilized by cutting 175 billion tons of carbon emissions over 50 years, accelerating emissions over the past decade mean that it could require more than 500 billion tons of avoided emissions to achieve the same goal…

In the United States, a combination of high temperatures and dry conditions last year took a serious toll on the nation’s agricultural sector. NOAA’s Karl noted that the Midwest had been relatively wet for several years, which had curbed the impact of warmer temperatures.

In 2012, he said, “both the day and the nighttime temperatures were breaking their all-time records,” and that combined with drier conditions amounted to “a double whammy.”

The warmest March on record meant vegetation levels were 25 percent higher than normal that month, but many of those crops dried up because 39 percent of the United States experienced severe or extreme drought in 2012.

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