This article by the New York Times is something that drives me crazy, and I will wager the majority of my colleagues in the broadcast meteorology community feel the same way. Titled, "Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in U.S.," the article highlights the fact 2012 had the highest average temperature since accurate records have been maintained.
But the headline hysterically evokes the notion it has never been this warm in the history of the planet. The data itself is correct as provided by the National Climatic Data Center but the headline writer, for the Times, based the headline on favorable media opinion rather than scientific fact. A much better headline is penned by NOAA, "By a wide margin, 2012 was the United States’ warmest year on record", found here (Thanks for the find Brad Panovich).
2012 did blow away the previously warmest year on record with an average temperature of 55.3 degrees. The warmest year previously was 14 years earlier in 1998 with an average of 54.3 degrees. The coolest year on record is 50.1 degrees set back in 1917. The records date back to 1895, which gives 117 years of data. Here lies the problem, with 117 years of data apparently stretching to the beginning of time.
Now let me go ahead and state a few things. I do believe the weather has warmed over the past years, but I'm not completely sold on ALL of the ideas and theories behind the global warming argument. Having said that, I'm not a climate scientist and I didn't even take a climate course while majoring in meteorology at North Carolina State University. Weather forecasting is my passion and that is what drives me as a scientist. Do I think climate should be carefully studied to determine if it could predict weather in the future? Absolutely.
I got the idea for the blog while on a conference call with NCDC when they were answering questions for reporters across the country. These reporters were from the AP, NYT and other major news outlets that give the majority of U.S. citizens their daily news. The problem is, almost every one of them asked a question trying to relate 2012 to global warming. At ABC 7, we wrote our own blog on it, and there are some very impressive statistics. We left out the mention of global warming as this brings up far too many questions that even the climate scientists at NCDC tried to avoid answering over the phone.
Here are some climatological tidbits about 2012 you may not of heard nor seen reported, as well as some interesting things to think about given this latest analysis.
The fact is this climate report was only for the lower 48 states...the contiguous states. The 2012 national temperature analysis doesn't include Alaska, whose size alone spans nearly a third of the United States. Don't worry, I have included a size comparison below so you can understand the vast size of Alaska compared to the continental U.S. I mention this because Alaska experienced its 11th coolest year on record. A span which includes over 95 years of data. January was the coldest on record. It was a whopping 14 degrees below average! Another fact absent from almost all reporting that I've seen is that Alaskans, state-wide, experienced below average temperatures during every season...summer, fall, winter and spring.