A new report from the US government has confirmed what was likely obvious to many last year: 2012 was the warmest year on record. That's according to the latest "State of the Climate" report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific agency within the US Department of Commerce. According to the NOAA, 2012 saw an average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit within the contiguous US, a full degree higher than the previous record, seen in 1998, and 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th century average.
Nineteen states had a record warm year in 2012, while another 26 states saw one of their ten warmest years ever. In all, the lower 48 states sweltered through their warmest spring, second warmest summer, and fourth warmest winter on record last year. Temperatures were above average from June 2011 to September 2012, marking a 16-month stretch that hasn't been seen since the government began tracking climate data in 1895.
"You're going to be seeing this with increased frequency."
2012 was a year of unusual weather, as well. According to the NOAA, last year's weather patterns were the second most extreme on record, bringing widespread droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and storms (only tornado activity was below average). In fact, 2012 as the 15th driest year ever seen, with average total precipitation levels more than 2.5 inches below average.
Thomas R. Karl, director of the NOAA's National Climactic Data Center, says these record temperatures "are clearly symptomatic of a changing climate," noting that many Americans have only known periods of sustained warmth — a phenomena that "we haven't seen before." He noted that not every year will see record-breaking heat, but that Americans can expect to see temperatures continue to climb, potentially posing a serious threat to efforts to contain global warming.
"That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records," Karl told the Washington Post. "But you’re going to see this with increasing frequency."