If you thought July was the hottest month you’ve ever seen in your life, you had good reason to think that. Scientists say it was.
In fact, it was the single hottest month in the 48 contiguous states in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather records, which go back to 1895.
According to NOAA, the average temperature in the United States last month 77.6 degrees, which doesn’t sound so bad in our region where the mercury was regularly tipping triple digits all month. Even the increase in average temperature — two-tenths of a degree — from the previous hottest month on record — July 1936 — doesn’t sound terribly bad. The average is 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average.
Climate scientist Jake Crouch with NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., however, told The Associated Press for a report Wednesday that the 0.2-degree increase was “pretty significant.” Some point to the notorious Dust Bowl years as proof that things really aren’t hotter these days, but Crouch told AP that the current year is “rivaling and beating them (Dust Bowl years) consistently from month to month.”
According to NOAA records available on its website, Charlotte, N.C., tied its all-time hottest temperature on July 1 with 104 degrees, which was eclipsed by Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., with 107 degrees. That record high broke Greenville-Spartanburg’s previous record of 106 that had stood since 1887. Even the lows were high in several cities. On July 31, the temperature never fell below 88 degrees in Tulsa, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark., didn’t drop below 83 degrees on July 30 — the same day it reached an incredible 111 degrees. Still, that wasn’t a record for Little Rock, which reached its all-time high of 114 on Aug. 3, 2011.
Albany just missed matching its record for July 1 when the mercury topped out at 103, 1 degree below the all-time high for the day set in 1902. The Albany all-time high for any July day was 105 for July 14, set in 1980. Only once for the month did the low fall below 72 when it dropped to 70 on the 18th.
It also was awfully dry across the states. NOAA says May-July was the second warmest and 12th driest quarter for the lower 48 states, contributing to rapid expansion of drought. Ten states in the central U.S. had three-month precipitation totals among their 10 driest, including record dry periods for Nebraska, Kansas and Arkansas.
On July 31, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), 62.9 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought at the end of July, an increase of about 6.9 percent compared to the end of June. The 63.9 percent experiencing drought on July 24 set a record for the USDM, which has been keeping those records for 13 years. The drought conditions contributed to the loss of 2 million acres to wildfire in July, a half-million more than average and the fourth most burned acreage since 2000.
Looking back over the past 12 months — August 1, 2011 to July 31, 2012 — it was the warmest 12-month period of any 12 months on record for the contiguous U.S., narrowly surpassing July 2011-June 2012 period by 0.07 degree. The nationally averaged temperature of 56.1 degrees was 3.3 degrees above the long-term average, and only the state of Washington, which was near average, didn’t have warmer-than-average temperatures for the period for the 48 states.
All in all, it was a record-setting month in a lot of ways, none of them particularly good. Agriculture — both row crop and cattle — has been hit hard. While many of us have already experienced high power bills because of the oppressive heat, we may not feel the full effects for some time, particularly at the grocery store checkout counter.