Trend of record warmth in U.S.

Posted at 8:31 AM, Apr 10, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-10 10:49:22-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Virginia joined most of the United States in record warmth in March, and also continuing the record warm trend from this Winter. You may recall Richmond recorded its second warmest March on record at Richmond International Airport, and also had its fourth warmest Winter on record, along with the rest of the contiguous U.S. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says March 2012 was the warmest March on record in the Lower 48 since record-keeping began in 1895. Virginia (the entire Commonwealth) also ranked as the warmest March on record.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center says in its recent State of the Climate report, "The average temperature of 51.1°F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5°F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months (117+ years) that have passed since the U.S. climate record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012." A broad ridge of high pressure parked over the eastern U.S., including Virginia, led to a stretch of unseasonably warm weather. Here are the rankings by state (where you see 118, that means it's the hottest March on record out of 118 years of record-keeping):

"Every state in the nation experienced at least one record warm daily temperature during March," says NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. To be exact, "there were 15,272 warm temperature records broken (7,755 daytime records, 7,517 nighttime records). Hundreds of locations across the country broke their all-time March records. There were 21 instances of the nighttime temperatures being as warm, or warmer, than the existing record daytime temperature for a given date." (BONUS: Click here to explore the records).

Click on the YouTube image below to watch an animation of more than 15,000 warm weather records broken in March 2012 across the country.

The unseasonably warm weather also set the stage for severe weather in the U.S. The early March tornado outbreak was our first billion dollar disaster of 2012, according to NOAA. The NCDC State of the Climate report explains, "According to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, there were 223 preliminary tornado reports during March, a month that averages 80 tornadoes annually. The majority of the tornadoes occurred during the March 2 to 3 outbreak across the Ohio Valley and Southeast, which caused 40 fatalities. Total losses from this event are estimated to exceed $1.5 billion dollars, making this the first event of 2012 to exceed one billion dollars in damages and losses."

On the flip side, though, not all of the U.S. experienced warmth. Alaska's average March temperature was its tenth coolest on record. For the January through March period, it was the ninth coolest on record, with temperatures 5.2°F below average. In addition, many locations in Alaska experienced either near-record or record snowfall for this season. For example, Anchorage has reported 134.5 inches of snowfall (through April 9, 2012) for the snow season of 2011-2012, which is now the snowiest season on record. Click here to read more about Alaska's Winter to remember from John Papineau, Ph.D, Climate Focal Point, National Weather Service, Anchorage.

The first three months of this year were also the warmest first quarter in the contiguous U.S. on record. This continues the warming trend, especially since the late 1970s, not only for the U.S. but also globally of average temperature, which you can see on the plots below are linked to the emissions of greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide.

IMAGE: NOAA Climate Services

BONUS: You can learn more about the Earth's climate by clicking here.

Climate Central provides this perspective about Carbon Dioxide: "CO2 can be both a cause and a result of climate change. A study in Nature suggests that the last Ice Age ended because changes in Earth’s tilt brought more sunlight to the Northern Hemisphere. Melting ice sheets dumped fresh water into the Atlantic, shutting off the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. That made the Southern Hemisphere warm in turn, releasing lots of CO2 from the ocean, which began trapping the Sun’s heat to warm the planet in earnest."

BONUS: Click here to watch this 26 second video from NASA showing how temperatures around the globe have warmed since 1880.

Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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