Warm-weather records are already falling at a dizzying pace in 2012, with some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the contiguous United States and other spots around the globe ratcheting up concerns among scientists and weather experts that a “tipping point” in climate change may have been reached.
Just three months into 2012, the familiar seasonal weather patterns have been out of whack since the calendar turned, with winter nothing but an illusion for much of the country and temperatures ranging well above typical cold readings. It turns out that the sense of a lost winter was not just in the imaginations of the tens of millions of Americans the year’s unusual patterns have affected.
Weather experts say March brought the warmest temperatures on record for fully half of the United States, with major cities seeing warmth on par with the summer season. Private weather forecasting company Accuweather reported that at least 25 states broke warm temperature records dating all the way back to the early 1870′s.
A broader look at the unusual warmth that has marked the beginning of 2012 finds even more remarkable data. Not only was this March the warmest March in United States history, according to officials at NOAA, but the first three months of 2012 were also the warmest ever recorded in the lower 48 states – temperatures outside of Alaska and Hawaii were an unprecedented six degrees above normal over that three-month period.
An astonishing 15,000 warm temperature records were broken across the U.S. from January through March, an amount that NOAA calls “tremendously excessive.”
The record warmth was not simply a welcome burst of early spring. Warmer temperatures and wildly different weather patterns brought record severe weather, with hundreds of devastating tornadoes ans severe events in a month where there are typically only a few dozen. Billions of dollars in economic damage and dozens of lost lives show that a changing climate has real consequences for Americans.
March 2012 will go down as the warmest March in the United States since record-keeping began in 1895, NOAA said Monday.
In addition, the three-month period of January, February and March was the warmest first quarter ever recorded in the Lower 48 states. The average was 42 degrees Fahrenheit, a whopping 6 degrees above the long-term average.
A staggering 15,292 warm temperature records were broken, (7,755 record highs and 7,517 record high overnight lows), according to Chris Vaccaro, spokesperson for NOAA. “That’s tremendously excessive. The scope and the scale of warmth was really unprecedented, Vaccaro said.
The warm temperatures also contributed to conditions that were favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. There were 223 preliminary tornado reports during March, a month that averages 80 tornadoes, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. The majority of these tornadoes occurred during a severe weather outbreak across the Ohio River Valley and Southeast in early March. The outbreak caused 40 deaths and total losses of $1.5 billion, making it the first billion-dollar disaster of 2012.
Isolating the remarkable extremes experienced by the United States this year is a poor way to document the impact of climate change. Some parts of the world received record cold bursts at the same time as the U.S. was baking. But the long-term track record of climate and global temperatures is what makes the American heat wave of 2012 more significant and troubling.
Even before the early onset of record heat of 2012, scientists concluded that 2011 was one of the hottest years in history, and the hottest when factoring in a unique climatic phenomenon that typically cools the planet. This was not an isolated anomaly. 13 of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have come since 1997, and many experts predict 2012 could be the warmest yet.
This year is shaping up to be one of the ten hottest years on record, according to a United Nations report announced yesterday.
Likewise, 2011 may be the hottest year on record during La Niña, a periodic cooling of the eastern tropical Pacific.
That’s a bad sign, since La Niña years are generally relatively cool, said Steven Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana, who was not part of the study team.
So the new finding suggests that La Niña conditions that once produced strong global cooling now only slightly affect the overall temperature trend, Running said by email.
“What does it take now to have a cooling cycle?” he asked. “And what will happen in the next strong El Niño?”
El Niño is a warming of tropical waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. During El Niño years, the warmer currents heat the planet on top of the steady global warming trend caused by human-induced greenhouse gases.
Based on data from 189 countries, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report was presented at an international climate conference this week in Durban, South Africa.
The report also found that all but two of the overall 15 hottest years since record-keeping began in 1850 have occurred between 1997 and 2011.
Why are global temperatures skyrocketing at such extreme rates? Sadly, the answer is not hard to find.
In concert with spiking world temps, global carbon emissions have continued to rise at a similarly mind-boggling pace. Even as global conferences seek to curb the forces that lead to climate change and Western countries see their economies and industrial output slow down, emissions continue to rise with stronger developing economies and an unstoppable reliance on fossil fuels.
2010,the most recent year for which data is available, saw a nearly six percent increase in global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. It was the largest percentage increase in nearly ten years, and the biggest increase in gross emissions in record history.
With such ominous numbers stacking up, and little appetite for viable solutions to climate change from political leaders around the globe, leading scientists are resigned to the fact that we may have reached a “tipping point” from which it will likely be impossible to stave off some of the worst ramifications of a warming planet.
The world is close to reaching tipping points that will make it irreversibly hotter, making this decade critical in efforts to contain global warming, scientists warned on Monday.
Scientific estimates differ but the world’s temperature looks set to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to rise uncontrollably.
As emissions grow, scientists say the world is close to reaching thresholds beyond which the effects on the global climate will be irreversible, such as the melting of polar ice sheets and loss of rainforests.
“This is the critical decade. If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines,” said Will Steffen, executive director of the Australian National University’s climate change institute, speaking at a conference in London.
Even before such the most dramatic effects of climate change are visible to people, the impacts of a changing planet are already being felt. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of climate change is the rise in geopolitical challenges and global conflicts linked directly to rising seas, changing weather, and fewer natural resources.
Catastrophic global consequences of man-made climate change? Don;t bother telling that to American lawmakers in Washington. Record temperatures in their own backyard, record carbon emissions from fossil fuel use…it’s veritable white noise to a Congress and a political establishment seemingly addicted to the archaic status quo of oil addiction.
The hold of Big Oil has never been stronger on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan array of lawmakers recently voted down an effort to end the several billion dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies given every year to multinational oil companies drilling for oil in the United States.
Record profits, record oil prices and a record amount of domestic oil production led some — including President Obama, a leading recipient of political contributions from some of the largest oil companies - to call for an end to subsidies for ExxonMobil and BP. The U.S. Senate thought otherwise.
Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democratic measure championed by President Barack Obama to end tax breaks for the major oil companies.
The procedural vote of 51-47, which failed to reach the needed threshold of 60 in favor, killed the measure, which was given little chance of eventually winning approval in the Republican-controlled House. Four Democrats opposed the bill while one Republican supported it.
Obama and Democrats had pushed it in an attempt to gain political advantage as rising gas prices continue to hurt and anger American voters in an election year.
In remarks shortly before the Senate voted, Obama said the nation will be watching to see where Congress stands on the issue.
“With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “… I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers, who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks.”
A CNN/ORC International poll (PDF) released Thursday shows a majority of Americans blame oil companies — rather than the Obama administration — for the high gas prices.
But while the president joined in the effort to end handouts to Big Oil, Obama is most certainly in the group of political leaders who believe America needs more oil and gas exploration and a greater reliance on fossil fuels, not less. The White House prefers giving oil companies more money through sheer capitalism, not government subsidies. Either way, the planet loses.
The president’s reelection campaign website features a large page devoted to energy policy, where oil dominates a pie chart of energy sources Obama would support in a second term and “Increasing Domestic Oil Production & Reducing Our Dependence On Foreign Oil” is the highlighted talking point.
With gas prices spiking and the public more concerned with how much they’re paying at the pump and not how high the mercury is rising, the president has tapped into the popular frenzy by touting his “all of the above” energy policy; little more than a blueprint for expedited oil and gas exploration to quiet conservative critics.
At campaign stops across the country, Obama’s central message on domestic policy is a greater reliance on fossil fuels. As he tells crowds of voters, “you have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can…”
President Obama is using his energy tour to make the case that oil drilling is at a record pace on his watch — and it has had little if any effect on gas prices.
Speaking at an oil field last night in New Mexico, Obama said that “under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s a fact. That is a fact.”
Blasting political opponents who say he is against domestic oil development, Obama also told workers that “you have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can — and we’ll do it while protecting the health and safety of the American people.”