The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states. Not only did the continental US experience an extremely severe drought, but it was also plagued by wildfires, hurricanes and storms. Tornado activity, however, was below average.
According to the NOAA and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), 2012′s average temperature was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.2 degrees above the 20th century’s average and 1.5 degrees above the average in 2011. This year’s average temperature was only one degree above the average temperature of 1998. Though a one degree increase seems marginal, it is actually the opposite: annual temperature records are usually only broken by tenths of a degree. Average temperatures in earlier years had remained within a range of 4 degrees; thus, making 2012′s jump fairly grim.
The year 2012 contained the fourth-warmest winter, warmest spring, second-warmest summer and above-average temperatures in fall. This past July, 61% of the country experienced drought conditions, and was the hottest month for the contiguous 48 US with an average temperature of 3.6°F, exceeding typical July temperatures.
The drought spanning 2011-12 has had a relentless impact on farms, and caused $35 million loss in crops alone. The drought was provoked by low snow cover and warm temperatures during winter 2011, and continuing exacerbation by record warmth during spring 2011. Though a warmer spring allowed for the growing season to begin early, soil moisture was exhausted sooner than expected. A March heatwave kicked the drought up a notch, expediting the growth en masse, particularly across the Plains and Midwest.
Perhaps the NOAA’s findings will push Congress and the White House to target greenhouse gas emissions, which surely have had a hand in the world’s ever-growing climate change. The White House is gearing towards putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions for power plants, a major source of emissions. US emissions are still high — and though they have been reduced this year through the use of natural gases, renewable energy for electricity, and fuel-efficient cars — there’s still more to be done.
Dr. Das recently tweeted a letter to President Obama by the MIT Technology Review called, “Dear Mr. President: Time to Deal with Climate Change.” In this letter, the editors argue that addressing climate change must take top priority in the next four years.
However, the political reality in Obama’s second term is that lawmakers are divided and polarized in both Washington and state capitals, and other pressing issues will direct the nation’s attention, such as the economy — jobs, fiscal cliff, revenue, taxes, deficit and debt — immigration, and gun violence. Once again, the energy and environmental policies, and climate change debate will unfortunately take a backseat until the mid-term election in 2014. It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen in 2015.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
January 10, 2013
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