2012 Was Hottest Year on Record

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 8 2013 3:05 PM

It's Official: 2012 Was the Hottest Year on Record in Continental U.S. by a Full Degree

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Five-year-old Jasmine tries to cool off in June by running through a fountain in Washington, D.C.

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages

If you got tired of hearing people complain about the heat last year, it might be a bit of a comfort to know there was some reason behind all that whining. It turns out 2012 was officially the hottest year on record for the continental United States, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And it was the “second most extreme” year, judged by the U.S. Climate Extremes Index. The average temperature last year was 55.3 degrees, 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average and a full degree hotter than the previous record that was set in 1998. This translated into “a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn,” says the NOAA.

The U.S. Climates Extremes Index, which measures extremes in temperature and precipitation as well as tropical cyclones, “was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998,” according to the NOAA. There were 11 disasters last year that added up to $1 billion in losses. The analysis has, as could be expected, sparked debate about global warming and whether increases in temperature will reach dangerous levels by the end of the century, points out the Washington Post. “A hundred years from now, they’re not going to be talking about health care or the fiscal cliff,” one expert said. “But they will ask, ‘What did you do when we knew we were going to have serious climate change?’” NOAA plans to release global data in the next few weeks but a climate scientist in the agency tells NBC News that experts are already certain 2012 will make it on the list of top ten warmest years on record.

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In other hot-weather news, Slate's Will Oremus takes a look at how Australia is so hot it was forced to add a new color to its weather maps—deep purple—for temperatures up to 129 degrees.

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Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.