First three months of 2012 shatter US heat records

Sunday, April 8, 2012 | 11:01 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — It's been so warm in the United States this year, especially in March, that national records weren't just broken, they were deep-fried.

Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records.

The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming.

"Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good," said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist who specializes in extreme weather at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "It's a guilty pleasure. You're out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it's not a good thing."

It's not just March.

"It's been ongoing for several months," said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, N.C.

Meteorologists say an unusual confluence of several weather patterns, including La Nina, was the direct cause of the warm start to 2012. While individual events can't be blamed on global warming, Couch said this is like the extremes that are supposed to get more frequent because of manmade climate change from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

It's important to note that this unusual winter heat is mostly a phenomenon in North America. Much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has been cold, said NOAA meteorologist Martin Hoerling.

The first quarter of 2012 broke the January-March record by 1.4 degrees. Usually records are broken by just one- or two-tenths of a degree. U.S. temperature records date to 1895.

The atypical heat goes back even further. The U.S. winter of 2010-2011 was slightly cooler than normal and one of the snowiest in recent years, but after that things started heating up. The summer of 2011 was the second warmest summer on record.

The winter that just ended, which in some places was called the year without winter, was the fourth warmest on record. Since last April, it's been the hottest 12-month stretch on record, Crouch said.

But the month where the warmth turned especially weird was March.

Normally, March averages 42.5 degrees across the country. This year, the average was 51.1, which is closer to the average for April. Only one other time — in January 2006 — was the country as a whole that much hotter than normal for an entire month.

The "icebox of America," International Falls, Minn., saw temperatures in the 70s for five days in March, and there were only three days of below zero temperatures all month.

In March, at least 7,775 weather stations across the nation broke daily high temperature records and another 7,517 broke records for night-time heat. Combined, that's more high temperature records broken in one month than ever before, Crouch said.

"When you look at what's happened in March this year, it's beyond unbelievable," said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver.

NOAA climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi compared the increase in weather extremes to baseball players on steroids: You can't say an individual homer is because of steroids, but they are hit more often and the long-held records for home runs fall.

They seem to be falling far more often because of global warming, said NASA top climate scientist James Hansen. In a paper he submitted to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and posted on a physics research archive, Hansen shows that heat extremes aren't just increasing but happening far more often than scientists thought.

What used to be a 1-in-400 hot temperature record is now a 1 in 10 occurrence, essentially 40 times more likely, said Hansen. The warmth in March is an ideal illustration of this, said Hansen, who also has become an activist in fighting fossil fuels.

Weaver, who reviewed the Hansen paper and called it "one of the most stunning examples of evidence of global warming."

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter @borenbears.

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Nathan Whitaker April 9, 2012 | 7:09 a.m.

Well, it's a good thing that "global warming" is just a liberal plot to steal our American Freedoms(tm), otherwise all this scientific evidence and first-hand experience would scare the hell out of me. I bet a few tax cuts for the Job-Creators making over $500,000/year would bring these temperatures back to normal.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 9, 2012 | 7:58 a.m.

Stupid comes easy for many of us.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 9, 2012 | 10:15 a.m.

When were these broken records set?

"Illinois had its warmest winter since 1895, a pair of climate-study agencies at the University of Illinois said Tuesday."

"The records that were broken had been set in either the mid-1940s or 1910 in all nine states."

What caused the heat in those years? And, why do those claiming this unusual knowledge about climate, almost always, also belong to the group that uniformly hates the "rich" and detests bring labeled "liberal?"

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 9, 2012 | 10:40 a.m.

It is usually best to look at the broader picture.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 9, 2012 | 11:50 a.m.

It is usually best to accept new facts as presented and not ignore them.
M.E. Mann's hockey stick "graph is overall
acknowledged by the scientific community.", is no longer true. It is thoroughly disputed and U of Virginia is being sued for release of e-mails that prove he and cohorts manipulated findings for this theory.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Whitaker April 9, 2012 | 3:20 p.m.

It's time for conservatives to wake up.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 9, 2012 | 5:23 p.m.

Nathan W. - I have studied your daily kos piece thoroughly. Now let me explain it to you. It is another of the hundreds, if not thousands of liberal entreaties which always start with a detailed recital of each and every problem that we have honestly, had with "weather", well as some which we have not had (causing eventual extinction of polar bear,etc.). Then, blame Republicans because of some sort of "inside" relations with Big Oil. (The only relationship is the effort to keep them able to produce the basic source of energy that heats homes and allows the mobility of the American people, in front of the Democrat onslaught to curtail it.

This piece did not bother to cry out about the conservative refusal to participate in the only "cure" for GW, climate change or whatever, that has ever been put forward by Democrats here and socialists world wide, for that purpose. This cure, now being foisted upon other people around the world is new taxes and fees that have provided windfall profits for polluting CORP. in those countries and have done Nothing in regard to any "climate change". I would ask you to read an honest source of information.

There are many asleep in our country. Conservatives do not seem to be among them.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 9, 2012 | 5:31 p.m.

I just lost a pound today... I guess all I need to do is stay alive for another month and I will be at my goal weight. If this "trend" doesn't pan out, I'll be looking to the libs for some splainin'...

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 9, 2012 | 8:31 p.m.

One year of wacky weather does not climate change prove. But a few points to ponder:

1. Humans are altering the chemistry of earth's atmosphere WAY faster than any data has shown that it has ever changed before. (and funny, how ACC deniers so fully believe and trust data and computer models from climate scientists about pre-human earth conditions, to denounce the validity of current data and models from climate scientists)

2. Aggregate fossil fuel consumption and carbon releases didn't really get started in earnest until after WWII.

3. The earth has certainly and unequivocally been on a warming trend for the last 40 years. Regardless if scientists have been in a conspiracy for grant money, I don't think plants and animals care about cash; they've been changing their habits and ranges in response to changes in climate.

4. Following the history of ice ages (again, data and models developed by climate scientists), every indication says we should be on a very slow (imperceptible in human lifetime) cooling trend. Instead, the earth is warming detectably in half a human lifetime.

5. More energy in the atmosphere means more moisture in the atmosphere. Warmth and moisture in the atmosphere is a primary driver of violent weather events.

Nowhere in the (climate scientist constructed) historical records of the earth's climate and atmosphere has there ever been this big a change in atmospheric chemistry anywhere near this fast. We're in totally un-charted territory as far as rate of change. But, the aggregate energy sink of the earth is huge; climate changes have never happened on human-lifetime scales. It took thousands of years to end the ice ages; tens of thousands to bring them back. If you pay attention, it turns out that carbon heat feedback was what allowed the Milankovitch cycles to warm the earth so quickly, and carbon heat feedback is probably why it took 10 times longer for it to cool back down before it spiked so quickly up again.

We'lll have a lot more knowledge on climate science in another 10 years. Perhaps 2020 will be the year we gain some real clarity of vision about this. Humans have never seen these kind of concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere before; it's going to be interesting. Make sure you have storm and flood insurance on your house.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 9, 2012 | 9:21 p.m.

See, Nathan? Another lengthy recitation of the supposed condition of our earth, telling us perhaps we'll know something in another 18 years.

No mention that EU will finish their 3rd phase of Emission Trading scheme, in 2017. Enormous amounts of money have been sucked into the coffers of the wealthy in the attempt to "reduce carbon emissions". Zero return so far and none expected by '17. Yet socialists around our world and Democrats here are complaining loudly because U.S.A. has refused to join in this fraud.

Nate, the only time conservatives have dozed off is when progressive, liberal, Democrats have been allowed control anywhere in our government.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 10, 2012 | 5:08 a.m.

As I posted previously, the earth's atmosphere weighs 5,200 million million tons. So? So that's a BIG system, by anyone's definition.

Big systems have common characteristics. An important one is that they are often difficult or impossible to influence, but once they start to move in some direction controlling or stopping that movement is equally hard and may be impossible.

We cannot entirely do away with fuel combustion, especially when we now appear to be moving away from use of one alternative: nuclear fission. I'm not plugging nuclear here, just pointing out that the reaction involved does not produce carbon dioxide. I do find some of the goings on right now humorous: Germany has said they're done with nuclear power but is buying part of their energy from France. And how is France generating that power? France generates 75-80% of its power from nuclear. :) Well, politicians can do most anything, whereas scientists and engineers have to play by a strict set of rules.

If carbon dioxide from combustion of fuel is our concern (and I think it should be) then be advised that an estimated 80% of new power generation units scheduled for construction in China and India will be coal fired! What are the United States and/or the EU supposed to do about THAT?

Things could get a lot worse before they get any better, and they probably will.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 10, 2012 | 8:17 a.m.

Year 2000, I was riding old U.S. Airways in return from Amsterdam. Having read everything else within reach, I picked up a U.S. Airways pocket magazine and noted an urgent message from the CEO of that twice bankrupt airline, about Global Warming. He was urging Americans to move "forward" with GW remedies already in place around the world. I don't remember his numbers, but his fear was that if cap 'n trade etc. not instituted, in X years, the temperature would increase to X (double digits, I'm sure)degrees in the United States of America. He did not mention China or India. Does that not indicate that we of the U.S. are the only ones at fault?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 10, 2012 | 8:19 a.m.

frank christian wrote:

"Nate, the only time conservatives have dozed off is when progressive, liberal, Democrats have been allowed control anywhere in our government."

Climate change must not be a political issue. We'll need to feed 9 billion people in a few decades, and flooding, drought, and violent storms will make it more difficult to do that. It already is. Whether it is man-made or natural (or maybe a little of both), we'd better start preparing for more difficult growing conditions for our food.

Sometimes it's good to take precautions even though the absolute outcome of a problem may not be clear. If you're in Florida, and they call a hurricane watch, do you just sit around until it's absolutely clear that the storm is going to seriously affect your area? No - you take precautions, if you're wise. This is the same basic thing.

Ellis Smith wrote:

"As I posted previously, the earth's atmosphere weighs 5,200 million million tons. So? So that's a BIG system, by anyone's definition."

We've been adding about 2 ppm of CO2 every year for about the past 20 years, and I see that accelerating with China and India becoming mature industrial powers. Plus, there's only so much easy efficiency and conservation that first worlders are willing to do. We will find out what 500 and 600 ppm concentrations of CO2 do in terms of weather (and also plant growth, and the pests that feed on them). This is something we've never been able to do before, and it deserves serious, objective attention, without the partisan politics.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 10, 2012 | 8:58 a.m.

We have ample geologic evidence that once in past time our planet had an atmosphere with a higher carbon dioxide content than at present. If so, one would expect warmer temperatures and a tendency to favor lush plant life, which appears to have been the case. A legacy of that era is our deposits of coal, petroleum and natural gas (formed from decayed plant matter).

According to the same source from which I obtained the weight of our present atmosphere, the present level of oxygen in our atmosphere is, relatively speaking, recent.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 10, 2012 | 9:02 a.m.

Mark F., cannot, or will not deal with the fact that "partisan politics" come from Politicians!

The government of Florida has not set up (to my knowledge) any governmental ponzi schemes to extract money from citizens in the name of Hurricane Protection. Only progressive liberals have done that with climate change. The people of FL and elsewhere pay close attention to the warnings because they know that only their safety is involved, not their wallets.

Imo, only conservatives have done or are doing anything about feeding our 9B people. Before contradiction, remember, UN with GW policies and payments have made it more profitable for land owners in under developed countries to plant trees to help the planet rather than food to feed the people.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 10, 2012 | 9:07 a.m.

Take precautions?

A true believer would be buying farmland in southern Canada or Russia.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 10, 2012 | 9:40 a.m.

Frank, What if you and the handful of scientists you put your faith in are wrong? If those who believe our (human) practices are causing detrimental consequences are wrong, then then the only consequence is a cleaner planet. But, if you are wrong we are in for a rough ride. It doesn't really take a scientist to realize that if you have billions of cars, thousands of coal burning plants, and thousands of factories spewing out all sorts of nasty stuff there must be some effect on our environment.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 10, 2012 | 10:24 a.m.

Gary - OK, lets assume "my" scientists are wrong! What have "your" unknown, "thousands" of scientists done about the problem?

Is your mind so clogged by your ideology that you have not considered any of the information written just here? The only thing attempted by progressive liberals of the UN and elsewhere are schemes to extract money from citizens. G.W. Bush's mostly voluntarily actions to reduce emissions had more effect than any of the EU, UN tricks which always involve transfer of money from others to one. Obama immediately rescinded these policies and programs. True, it should not take a scientist to discern that something surely is seriously "amiss" in the world governance of today.

"billions of cars, thousands of coal burning plants, and thousands of factories spewing out all sorts of nasty stuff there must be some effect on our environment.", takes only a vivid imagination.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 10, 2012 | 11:46 a.m.

Gary: Let's discuss this from a theoretical, ivory-tower point of view.

You said words like "cleaner planet", we are in for a rough ride", and "there must be some effect on our environment."

The key words here are "we" and "our".

Many folks that consider themselves ecocentric or biocentric, and abhor anthropocentrism, are actually even more anthropocentric than that ethic perceived from conservatives. Anthropocentrism is an ethic that the world and its resources are mainly for us...the humans. Most ecocentrics or biocentrics attribute varying levels of "life value" to humans AND all other living things and, hence, their activities center around "protecting" ALL things living.

But when I read words like yours, I see nothing but a variant on anthropocentrism....a human-centered, underlying approach to designed to preserve your own rear end from a change considered adverse under the guise of "good" environmentalism.

I'm not trying to say spewing wastes is a good thing. I'm not saying burning fossil fuels is a good thing. I'm saying there is confusion in many minds about the ethic of their environmentalism. Rather than a "REAL" ethic that places value on "life" other than human with no self-serving agenda, the underlying ethic is actually quite human-centered because we don't like changes in the familiar and down-deep we're really trying to preserve our own sorry asses.

In many respects, I believe many environmentalists are more conservative than a conservative!

Dinosaurs, could they speak and would they exist, would likely disagree with your fossil-fuel approach.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 10, 2012 | 11:48 a.m.

A question: Can you think of one single species of life on this planet for which you would support extinction?

I can.

Several, in fact.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 10, 2012 | 1:57 p.m.

Michael, liberals are not a different species, though it may seem like it...

Save the Flesh Eating Bacteria !!!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 10, 2012 | 2:20 p.m.

MikeM: I'll name one....the particularly disgusting guinea worm.


I'm very anthropocentric regards that little critter.

I can name others, if pressed.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 10, 2012 | 4:05 p.m.

Not familiar with that beastie, but I'll nominate the tick and chigger for extinction.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub April 10, 2012 | 6:37 p.m.

Michael, one of the main things that differentiate us from the rest of the animals is that they learn to adapt to their environment, while we consistently try to adapt our environment to fit our desires. Of course beings go extinct, a few by our hands but mostly because they could not adapt, we are headed that way. If we do not find sustainable sources of energy, or I should say, if we refuse to use the abundant sources of sustainable energy, we are heading towards the old burial ground beside the other beings who over-consumed. If the earth does warm more, as seems to be the case, our consumption of energy just to maintain what we determine to be a necessary temperature in our homes and work places will quickly devour the non-renewable resources. Then your anthropomorphic idealism will show it's dispassion.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 10, 2012 | 10:15 p.m.

Gary: Nah, a virus will get us first, and those in cities will be the first to go.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 10, 2012 | 11:41 p.m.

Virus? Climate change? Economic collapse? What will kill us first? The vast majority of all deceased human beings have been killed by old age.

But don't forget the possibility it could be the fallout from the Fukushima disaster. No, that crisis isn't over yet. It won't be "over" for perhaps hundreds of years. The spent fuel pool (SPF) #4 is about to collapse. When that happens, all efforts at containment and management will have to cease. Then, it's only a matter of time before the common spent storage pool goes up in flames, as well.

For the record, that's a total of over 1,535 fuel assemblies in the #4 SFP; more than 145,000 fuel rods. Nearly 600,000 fuel rods in the 6,375 fuel assemblies in the common spent fuel pool. These numbers dwarf the fuel that burned at Chernobyl.

The number of parents deciding to abort fetuses because of prenatal tests indicating congenital defects is rising rapidly in Japan.

Here's a map of the radiation plume in the Pacific:

You can always tune into Arnie Gundersen, a long-time nuclear energy consultant, for periodic updates on Fukushima:

"Clean" energy just doesn't get any dirtier or more toxic than this. But don't worry, there's plenty of natural radiation anyway, right? A little more manmade radioactive fallout couldn't possibly make a difference, could it?

Of course, that study can be written off as just unscrupulous scientists trying to get everyone worried about coincidental statistical noise.

(Report Comment)
frank christian April 11, 2012 | 8:58 a.m.

Are the people being properly Taxed in regard to these impending disasters?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 11, 2012 | 7:06 p.m.

@Derrick, some comments on your sources.

From the report that your first link connects to:

"They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137"

If diluted uniformly in the Pacific Ocean (622 x 10^18 liters), that amount of radioactivity would give a concentration of 0.54 pCi/liter. For perspective, many isotopes have allowable concentrations in water of hundreds and thousands of times that. It's an undetectable amount of radioactive material at the scale the world would encounter it at. You *might* detect 25 times that concentration with a Geiger counter.

The atmosphere is 4,2 x 10^19 liters, so the concentration per liter would be even less.

A spill of those fuel rods would be a real problem for Japan, but it certainly wouldn't cause the demise of humanity (or life of any sort). Mr. Matsumura is quite off base with his asserions.

The abortion link is outdated - it didn't really have any information other than the one sentence. I searched for other evidence of that and came up short.

As far as the reported excess deaths after Fukushima and Chernobyl, there is no known mechanism by which low level radiation can cause death is a short time. Most studies of radiation-related disease find things like cancers after 20 or 30 years. Only very high doses cause quick death, by frank radiation poisoning.

The statistics in both reports are lacking in that it's not enough to compare one year with the year before. You have to compare it to many years before to be able to say that it's really unusual - in other words, how unusual is it to have a large change in deaths from one quarter of a year from the year before? I don't have those numbers, but in light of what we know about low level exposure, would tend to doubt that Fukushima or Chernobyl caused large number of US deaths.

Radiation workers are one of the more heavily studied groups of people as far as health effects. They are allowed 50 times the exposure that the regular public is, and for most of them it is tracked. The results of these studies are far from conclusive, and generally that means any effect, if present, is very small.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 11, 2012 | 9:59 p.m.

Also for perspective, 0.54 pCi is 1.2 disintegrations per minute (dpm).

A sample containing 1.2 dpm more radiation than background would have to be counted for a very long time to show a statistical difference from background. It's essentially undetectable.

Scientific American didn't care for the quality of the Mangano/Sherman paper. Me, neither.

Avoid dentists, doctors and forheaven'ssake stay off airplanes. If TSA doesn't get ya, radiation will.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle May 3, 2012 | 4:46 p.m.

Very interesting long-term study of Japanese radiation exposure:

This is a very interesting study, showing a very significant NEGATIVE correlation between certain radiation exposure, and cancer rates. The report calls out the "No Linear Threshold" exposure risk assessment model as flawed.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 3, 2012 | 5:12 p.m.

Derrick: Your article states, "This experience indicates that chronic exposure of the whole body to low-dose-rate radiation, even accumulated to a high annual dose, may be beneficial to human health."

This is the first report of such an effect from radiation I have personally seen. However, there is abundant published evidence in the toxicology world showing that such a thing actually occurs. I don't know if you know the reason, but I'll simplify for others.

Imagine an x-y axis where the x-axis is "dose" and the y-axis is "negative effect". The units are immaterial. The "no dose is safe" model would have a line starting at the origin and have a positive slope as the dose is increased. That is, the higher the dose, the larger the number of negative outcomes. Since the line goes through zero, any positive non-zero dose would have some negative risk.

Problem is this: In many large studies on a variety of pesticides and other poisons, this dose response curve hits the x-axis at a positive non-zero number. The curve is saying, "You have to reach a threshold dose before you get a negative outcome". The body is able to take care of a small dose, but not larger ones.

Someone, I don't know who, wondered if such curves extended BELOW the x-axis, entering the "good effect" region of the y-axis (If y>0 is bad, maybe y<0 is good?????). Lo-and-behold, large studies seemed to show this! Radiation may be another example of this.

How can this be?

One simple example to illustrate the point is pumping iron. When you pump iron, you fragment some muscle fibers. That's a negative outcome. The body responds with MORE muscle fibers and you get stronger. That's a positive y<0 outcome for a low dose. Overdo it, tho with a y>>0 session, and you may pop muscles from which there may be no return.

With toxins, your liver can respond by activating more of the detoxifying enzymes like P-450. You have had a positive outcome even with a dose some believing in a "no dose is safe" model.

Radiation may activate enzymes associated with DNA repair.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 3, 2012 | 5:19 p.m.

As JonH would say: Bleh! I need an edit button.

Change the last sentence: "You have had a positive outcome even with a dose some believing in a "no dose is safe" model."


You have had a positive outcome even with a dose. The dose is sufficiently small to elicit a good outcome because your body has some ability to protect you. The "no dose is safe" model should not be used to assess risk in this instance.

(Report Comment)

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