Heat Wave: 2012 Labeled Hottest Year on Record

January 10, 2013

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

It’s official. Last year was the warmest year in history for the contiguous United States with at least 356 record high temperatures tied or broken, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Average temperatures in 2012 were above the 20th century average by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures also beat a previous record set in 1998 by a full degree, even though 2012 was not an El Niño year. “Well, 1998’s heat was attributed to a strong El Niño, said Meteorologist Matt Mosteiko. “For 2012, there wasn’t one main factor that led to warm temps.”

Researchers on the NOAA study were reluctant to connect specific weather events in 2012 to climate change, but they did describe the data as “part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier and potentially more extreme weather” to The Washington Post.

While global temperatures for 2012 are not yet available, predictions for temperature increases globally were released. But the United Kingdom’s Met Office downgraded its previous forecast for average global temperatures through 2017. The cut—20 percent—takes the average to 0.43 degrees Celsius above the 1971-2000 average, down from 0.54 degrees. The report led some media outlets to claim “global warming is at a standstill,” but others said that isn’t true. Rather, natural fluctuations in the climate system are currently having a combined cooling effect on the atmospheric temperatures, which is damping the full extent of human-caused temperature rise.

Australia has also been experiencing record-breaking heat of late, which has led to a rash of wildfires in some of the country’s most populous areas. The average temperature on Tuesday reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit—the hottest since record-keeping began in 1911. The extreme heat forced meteorologists to add a new color to their temperature maps to show temperatures near 129 degrees.

Energy in Arctic under Review

Shell Oil has experienced more than a dozen mishaps as it pulls together offshore drilling operations in the Arctic. Just last week off the coast of Alaska, Shell grounded its drilling vessel, the Kulluk. Some reports say the ship’s lifeboats may have leaked diesel fuel.

This series of accidents has led the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate a review of Shell’s exploration efforts to help guide future permitting in the region. The process, officials have said, is estimated to take 60 days. The outcome could threaten the company’s drilling plans for 2013 during the limited window when weather conditions and regulators allow exploration. “It is troubling that there was such a series of mishaps,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “There is a troubling sense I have that so many things went wrong. It may be that Shell isn’t even ready to move forward in 2013, because of assessments taking place of the Kulluk.”

Cities Adapt as Full Extent of Sandy Relief Remains in Limbo  

As the northeastern U.S. continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama signed a bill to provide emergency federal aid to the hurricane’s victims in three of the hardest hit states—Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The $9.7 billion, earmarked mostly to help pay for flood insurance, is only a piece of the $60 billion sought to aid in recovery following the October storm. Lawmakers are expected to weigh in on the remainder of the package Jan. 15. House Republicans asked members to submit amendments to the relief package by Friday.

Some states aren’t waiting on Washington. New York now has a new commission focused on how to cope with worsening storms. So far, the expert panel’s recommendations—still part of a draft report— include measures such as turning industrial shoreline into oyster beds, storm barriers with moveable gates and rail connections between commuter lines.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.