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Kids playing on a hot day Weather in the United States in 2012 included intense heat, drought, and catastrophic storms. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA / Corbis)

Hotter Than Ever

The year 2012 was the hottest on record in the United States

By Laura Leigh Davidson | January 16 , 2013

If 2012 felt like it had the warmest winter and most sizzling summer you’ve ever experienced, you’re right—it did. Temperatures soared so high, so often, that the average temperature in the contiguous U.S. smashed the previous record set in 1998. (Contiguous refers to states that share a border with another state. The contiguous U.S. does not include Alaska and Hawaii.)

The average temperature in the U.S. mainland’s 48 states during 2012 was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a rise of one full degree over the previous record.

That one tiny tick up the thermometer might not sound like a lot. But scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the government agency that released the weather numbers report last week—say that little degree could be a very big deal.

“[A] one-degree change can alter [the planet’s] global circulation patterns, which control areas of heat and drought,” Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief, told USA Today.

The U.S. experienced many severe weather events throughout 2012. The nation had its worst drought in more than 50 years. Central states in the U.S. were hard hit, losing many crops and animals to high heat and lack of water. Dry conditions from record-high temperatures also fueled wildfires, which burned more than 9 million acres.

Other areas had too much water. Eleven storms, including Superstorm Sandy, each caused significant damage along the country’s coasts. The United States has spent billions of dollars recovering from these extreme weather events.

Many scientists say that climate change is one of the reasons behind the wild weather of 2012. But they also say it is difficult to draw a direct connection between one type of weather event and one aspect of climate change.

Although the U.S. endured its hottest year on record in 2012, on the planet overall, last year was only in the top 10 for highest global temperatures.

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