Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

115,493 subscribers and counting ...

By in
| Earth on Jan 09, 2013

It’s official: 2012 was warmest year for the United States

NCDC finally made it official and announced that 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States.

We already knew it, and we were sure it would happen, and it did. On January 8, 2013, NOAA and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released the latest climate report from 2012 and found that it was the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States. The average temperature for the contiguous United States for 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 3.2°F above the 20th century average. In fact, 2012 beat 1998 as the warmest year ever recorded in the U.S. by an amazing 1.0°F! In general, the United States had the fourth-warmest winter, the warmest spring ever recorded, second-warmest summer, and a warmer-than-average fall.

The map above shows where the 2012 temperatures were different from the 1981–2010 average. Shades of red indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit warmer than average, and shades of blue indicate temperatures up to 8° Fahrenheit cooler than average—the darker the color, the larger the difference from average temperature. Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC

Here is a list of the extreme weather events that occurred in 2012 across the contiguous United States. All information can be found through NCDC:

-9 consecutive 12-month periods ending in 2012 now make up the nine warmest in the CONUS record (a record of soil characteristics, including temperature).
-356 all-time record high maximum temperatures known to be tied or broken in the United States.
-4 all-time record low minimum temperatures known to be tied or broken in the United States.
-19 states that had their warmest annual period.
-65.5 percent of the contiguous U.S. that was experiencing drought in September, a record in the 14-year United States Drought Monitor history.
-99.1 million people – about a third of the U.S. population – experienced 10 or more days of temperatures that reached or exceeded 100°F.
-13.88 feet of water rise from Post-tropical storm Sandy measured at The Battery in New York City Harbor.
-9.2 millions of acres that burned due to wildfire in the CONUS during 2012.
-113 new all-time warmest temperatures observed in South Carolina, set June 28 in Columbia.
-19 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, tying 2011, 2010, 1995, and 1887 as the third busiest year for North Atlantic tropical cyclones.
-190 consecutive days (June 24th and December 31st 2012) without a tornado-related fatality. Second to October 15, 1986 and February 28, 1987 (197 days). FYI: We have already surpassed the 197 days as of January 7, 2013.
-16 consecutive months with contiguous U.S. temperatures above long-term average (June 2011-September 2012). Longest such streak on record.

Out of all of the charts we can use to showcase the major warmth across the contiguous United States, I believe the chart below really shows you how unusual and warm 2012 was in comparison to other years. 2012 was in a league of its own!

2012 beats out the warmest year (1998) by a full degree. Truly remarkable. Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC

Eight of the past ten warmest years ever recorded for the United States have occurred since 1990. Only years prior to 1990 that experienced record warmth were in 1934 (4th warmest), 1921 (6th warmest), and 1931 (10th warmest). The NCDC provided a list of known all time temperature records that were broken across the United States. This list is quite massive, and only shows how much extreme weather has occurred across the United States. 26 states recorded their top ten warmest years since record keeping began, and the only states to not accomplish this is Georgia, Oregon, and Washington. You can see the list of each state’s ranking below.

January through December 2012 statewide ranks of where they averaged in regards to below to above average temperatures. Every state experienced above average temperatures. Red states indicate warmest ever recorded for that state. Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC

Bottom line: NOAA confirms that 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States since record keeping began in 1895. The warmest year ever recorded prior to 2012 was in 1998, when temperatures across the United States averaged to be 2.3°F above average. However, 2012 not only beat 1998, but simply put destroyed this old record by a full degree. The drought conditions across the country also influenced these temperatures to warm as there was very little moisture or clouds to prevent daytime heating. It is uncertain what 2013 brings, but the extreme weather will likely continue.