2012 Was 10th Warmest Year Ever, Behind the Rest of the 21st Century

Only 1998 was warmer among 20th century years; monthly temperature records are being routinely shattered

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2012 Was 10th Warmest Year Ever, Behind the Rest of the 21st Century

According to finalized data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 ranked as the 10th warmest year since recording began in 1880. That doesn't sound so terrible, except that of the nine years ahead of it eight of them came since 2000; among earlier years, only 1998 was hotter.

Also impressive is the streak of years above the 20th century average temperature: 2012 was the 36th such year in a row. The global average for 2012 was 0.57°C above that average, and NOAA says the mercury has risen at an average rate of 0.16°C per decade since 1970. It is—ahem—getting very hot in here.

Also released recently, a paper in the journal Climatic Change demonstrated the global temperature rise in another way: monthly temperature records are being broken at an astonishing rate. In fact, records are falling around the world at a five-fold higher clip than would be expected with no long-term warming trend. Even scarier: "Under a medium global warming scenario, by the 2040s we predict the number of monthly heat records globally to be more than 12 times as high as in a climate with no long-term warming."

If you look only at the United States, 2012 turns out to have been an even hotter year—the hottest ever, in fact, for the contiguous U.S., with an average annual temperature of 12.96°C, or 1.81°C above the 20th century average. Every single one of the 48 contiguous U.S. states had temperatures above average. Look at the graph below—a clear indicator of the off-the-charts heat in which the country sweltered in 2012.

These sorts of numbers aren't going to disappear or regress any time soon. We will continue to hear about $16 billion taxpayer hits thanks to the ongoing drought, or the earliest springtime flowering in 161 years of recorded history, or an Australian heat wave so extreme the Bureau of Meteorology had to add new colors to its weather maps. Welcome to our new and sweaty normal.

Images via NOAA

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Greg Mably

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