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2012 Hottest Year On Record...By Far

Tornadoes, drought, hurricanes contribute to second most extreme weather on books

Beth Brogan, staff writer

Dry corn in a field as rain clouds threaten near Paoli, Okla., in July 2012. The rain provided a brief respite from the drought. (Photo: Associated Press / Sue Ogrocki)

The year that saw much of the country engulfed in a drought and the east coast submerged by Hurricane Sandy was officially the warmest on record—by far—for the contiguous United States, and saw the second most extreme weather conditions, government officials said Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's State of the Climate report confirmed recent warnings by experts and a slew of government agencies that climate change is already well underway.

The average temperature in 2012 was 55.3ºF, 3.2ºF above the average temperature for the 20th century and 1ºF above 1998, previously the warmest year on record.

Jeff Masters of Weather Underground called the dramatic rise in temperature "astonishing," noting, "It is extremely rare for an area the size of the U.S. to break an annual average temperature record by such a large margin."

“We’re taking quite a large step,” Jake Crouch, a climate scientist from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, told NBC News.

"Most striking was the number of locations across the country that broke their average annual temperature record," a statement from NOAA reads. "More than a dozen of these locations also experienced their driest year on record."

"This disturbing news puts the heat on President Obama to take immediate action against carbon pollution," said Dr. Shaye Wolf, climate science director with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead. Science tells us that our rapidly warming planet will endure more heat waves, droughts and extreme weather. The president needs to start making full use of the Clean Air Act to fight greenhouse gas emissions, before it’s too late."

Among the statistics from NOAA:

Every state in the contiguous US had an above-average annual temperature for 2012, with 19 states seeing a record warm year and an additional 26 one of their 10 warmest.


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2012 started with the fourth-warmest winter on record, followed by the warmest March and July.

2012 also saw the second-most extreme weather on the books, according to the Climate Extremes Index.

"The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead," stated Dr. Shaye Wolfe of the Center for Biological Diversity.The year brought 11 disasters that surpassed $1 billion in losses, including several tornados and hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, as well as a devastating drought that Crouch said may well continue into 2013. In all, 2012 was the 15th driest year on record.

"The drought got a lot of attention this summer when it was having impacts on agriculture," he said. "More than 60 percent of the country is still in drought. And if things don't change, the drought is going to continue to be a big story in 2013."

Worldwide, temperatures rose as well, prompting the World Meteorological Organization to say in November that the rate at which the Arctic sea ice was melting was "alarming."

But scientists expect La Niña, which tends to cool the global climate, to figure into global temperatures when they are released in coming weeks, The New York Times reports.

Still, they expect global temperatures to be in the top ten" warmest years ever, Crouch told NBC News.

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