For anyone who experienced "a surreal March heat wave, a severe drought in the Corn Belt [or] a huge storm that caused broad devastation in the Middle Atlantic States," it probably won't surprise you to learn that 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States. But, as new data from the NOAA indicates, not only was last year the warmest ever, it "demolished" the previous record (set in 1998) by a full degree. And while one degree my not sound like much, "temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree," says Justin Gillis.
"Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in last year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely."
With 11 disasters last year having exceeded $1 billion in damages, 2012 also "turned out to be the second-worst on a measure called the Climate Extremes Index, surpassed only by 1998."
2012 is expected to crack the top ten hotest years for global temperatures as well, meaning that all ten of the hottest years on record will have occured in the last 15 years. "Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures that fell below the 20th-century average, because the last such month was February 1985," adds Gillis.