2006: warmest year on record in the U.S.

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:18 PM GMT on January 09, 2007

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The United States recorded its warmest year ever in 2006, according to today's report issued by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The 2006 annual average temperature was 55�F, 2.2�F (1.2�C) above the 20th Century mean and 0.07�F (0.04�C) warmer than the previous warmest year, 1998. The NCDC had estimated that 2006 would be the 3rd warmest year in U.S. history last month, but an unusually warm December pushed 2006 to the top. It was the warmest December on record in the Northeast U.S., and the 4th warmest December for the country as a whole. Only 1939, 1957, and 1933 had warmer Decembers. However, the statistics partially hide the extraordinary warmth that began on December 10 and continued until January 6, when New York City tied their all-time record January high temperature of 72�. During the month ending January 6, the Northeast was 14 �F above average, and the U.S. as a whole was 7� above average.



No cause for alarm?
"No cause for alarm. Enjoy it while you have it," said Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, in a story run by CNN just before New York City's record warmth. The story continued, "The weather is prone to short-term fluctuations, and forecasters said the mild winter does not necessarily mean global warming is upon us. In fact, the Plains have been hit by back-to-back blizzards in the past two weeks." True, the weather across most of the U.S. has finally cooled off this week, and the rest of January should have near average temperatures. And I agree that one warm month of winter in one country in its warmest year in 112 years of record keeping is not evidence of global warming, particularly when there is a moderate El Nino episode going on. An El Nino can lead to significantly warmer winters in the U.S.--exceptional December warmth has also occurred in 1877, 1939, and 1957, all of which were moderate or strong El Nino years. I've plotted up a comparison of temperatures in December of 1957 vs 2006 (Figure 1), and one can see that the unusual warmth of December 2006 does have historical precedent. Taking a look at average U.S. December temperatures for all years in the historical record (Figure 2), we see that these temperatures do show quite a bit of noise, and there is no evidence of dramatic warming in the past 30 years.


Figure 1. Comparison of the departure of average temperature from normal for December 1957 (the the second warmest December on record in the U.S.) and December 2006. Image credit: NOAA.

Figure 2. Average December temperatures for the U.S. from 1895 to 2006. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Rolling thirteens with the weather dice
Take a look at the trend December temperatures in Figure 2. It shows that the average temperature has warmed a little more than 1� F in the past century. It may not seem like much, but that is enough to significantly load the dice in favor of warmer winters. Six of the ten warmest U.S. winters on record have occurred in the past 15 years. Month long spells where winter is seemingly absent--as also occurred in January 2006, the warmest January in U.S. history--have become more common. Keep in mind that the weather of January of 2006--which blew away the previous record for warmest January by a huge margin (2� F)--occurred during a La Nina year, not an El Nino. What concerns me most is that the warming trend is not isolated to the U.S. The 1� F rise in temperatures the past century has occurred world-wide, thanks to global warming, and the temperature increase has been much higher in the Arctic--something the climate models have predicted would occur as a telltale sign of the human-caused addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In the past, an exceptionally warm winter month in the U.S., like December 1957 (Figure 3), was offset by much cooler weather elsewhere, such as we see in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Siberia. However, December 2006 had no such offsetting cool temperatures--it was more than 1� C above average over almost all the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere north of 40� north latitude (Figure 4). Colorado, whose three blizzards have been widely cited as evidence that winter has been severe elsewhere, still recorded temperatures about 1� C above normal in December 2006.


Figure 3. Global departure of temperature from average for December 1957, the second warmest December on record in the U.S. Note that the exceptionally warm temperatures over the U.S. are offset by much cooler weather elsewhere, such as in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Siberia.

Figure 4. Global departure of temperature from average for December 2006. Note that the almost the entire globe north of 40� north latitude was more than 1� C above average, with large areas more than 6� C (11� F) above average.

All this unusual heat in the northern high latitudes is going to significantly slow down the formation of ice over the Arctic Ocean this winter. Furthermore, the lack of the usual snows across the Arctic may allow the snowpack to melt much earlier than normal in spring, resulting in more record warmth in the Arctic this summer. Arctic sea ice coverage, already down 20% in the past 20 years, is likely to continue to shrink in 2007. As sea ice melts in response to rising temperatures, it creates a positive feedback loop: melting ice means more of the dark ocean is exposed, allowing it to absorb more of the sun's energy, further increasing air temperatures, ocean temperatures, and ice melt. The observed changes in the ice cover (Figure 5) indicate that this feedback is now starting to take hold, and the weather dice will continue to get more loaded towards rolling higher numbers in 2007. I do think we're due for a cold winter next year--part of the warmth of the past two winters is probably due to the normal random fluctuations in the weather, and Nature has been rolling twelves more often than snake eyes of late. However, we're not going to see snake eyes too much more. December's weather in the Northeast U.S. may have been a case of the weather dice coming up thirteen--weather not seen on the planet since before the Ice Age began, 118,000 years ago. The weather dice will start rolling an increasing number of thirteens in coming years, and an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summertime by 2040 is a very real possibility, as indicated by computer modelling studies published in the Journal of Geophysical Research last month. This possibility is cause for alarm, and I, for one, had a lot of trouble enjoying the phenomenally warm weather of the past month here in Michigan.


Figure 5. Percent change in coverage of Arctic sea ice in Decembers from 1979-2006, compared to the 1979-2000 average. The Polar Ice Cap has shrunk by about 15% in December, and 20% in summer, over the past 20 years. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Check out the realclimate.org post on this winter's anomalous warmth.

I'll be back Thursday afternoon or Friday with a look at the status of El Nino. Will it still be around during hurricane season?

Jeff Masters

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199. HurricaneMyles
4:12 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
BTW, this is straight from one of your email convo's.

" Since you are effectively
mixing heat in ocean columns, you would be warming water at depth in
proportion to the surface cooling, and one should explore the
consequences of this. "

Emanuel already told you that the amount you cool the surface temp is how much the temp of the ocean depths will raise, which caffinehog already explain the consequences of.
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198. Patrap
10:13 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Once again..one forgets the scale of an Ocean or sea.Or the forces imparted on a structure by water..The limits are unreachable.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
197. Patrap
10:11 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Thats all many do here.Fold and mold a solid principle to fit a premise or Crazy Idea.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
195. HurricaneMyles
4:09 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Show me what he said. It's my belief that you are changing the context of what he and what others have said. Cuz if they were so sure they worked they would have probably already done far more to move the idea along.
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193. Caffinehog
3:51 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Despite the fact that cyclonebuster's idea would fail, I do applaud one thing about him:
He's trying to find a solution.

But cyclone, remember this: A scientist's job is to provide solutions. Note that I put an emphasis on the S. Even the best designed ideas, the internal combustion engine is a good example, have unexpected consequences. Others, like the Titanic simply fail for reasons that nobody could have predicted. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
Therefore, the wise man will provide multiple possible solutions instead of relentlessly clinging to one.
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192. HurricaneMyles
4:05 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Umm...in principle, yes, thats what would happen. In reality gravity would probably stop water from ever flowing up the tunnels.
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190. Patrap
9:58 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Heres the Skinny on TASK FORCE GUARDIAN..yall paid for it..ya should see the plan.Ignore the prompts..itsa DoD thing.Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
187. Patrap
9:52 PM CST on January 09, 2007
The floodgates and Pumps from the Lake looking into it...6
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185. anvilhead
3:53 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
New blog guys, check it out
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184. Patrap
9:51 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Real engineering with 3-D fly-around." width="425" height="350" alt="6" />
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
183. HurricaneMyles
3:48 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
The princple is sound does not mean it works. It just menas that you can create flow with your concept. The problem is creating enough flow so that gravity doesnt hold the water down. Thats why you need models.
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181. ricderr
3:46 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
go hog.....but it's ok cyclone..i'm sure you won't let facts get in the way of your dream..LMAO
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179. Patrap
9:44 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Thank Sweet God..a voice of reason..sanity reigns again..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
178. Caffinehog
3:11 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Posted By: cyclonebuster at 2:46 AM GMT on January 10, 2007.

Sorry I can't help you if you can't see how Bernoulli and Pascal are at work here as other scientist do!!


I'm a scientist. The problem is you keep ignoring Archimedes and Newton. To pull dense, cold water up, you must fight gravity. At some point, gravity overwhelms the current.
To push warm, light water down, you need to do the same thing.
Obviously, you haven't done the experiment I suggested where you try to blow water UP a garden hose. I guarantee you will fail.
You need a tremendous amount of force to overcome gravity, and ocean currents, which only flow at a few miles an hour, won't cut it.
Even ignoring density, and assuming that water came out these pipes at the speed of the current, it would require millions of these things to have a significant impact on the surface temperature - thousands to cool the path of just one hurricaine.

Besides, you're also missing a critical point here. Much of the bottom of the ocean, especially on the continentals shelf of the Gulf of Mexico, is covered with Methane Hydrates. Even a few degrees of warming over these deposits would cause the release of massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that is FAR more potent than CO2.
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176. HurricaneMyles
3:39 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
So you are admiting you have no clue if they work or not, right? And give it a couple of years, computers will soon be able to render 3D models of the ocean which probably would be able to model the tunnels. Then we'd see if you'd be able to create enoug flow to counteract the waters weight.
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175. Patrap
9:38 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Itsa dream..Only a dream..just a Memory without anyplace...to stay..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
173. Patrap
9:36 PM CST on January 09, 2007
gotta lov dat one 23..LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
172. Patrap
9:35 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Ask not..what the Docs blog can do for you..But what YOU , can do..for the Docs Blog!...
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
171. HurricaneMyles
3:33 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
LOL 23! I love that
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170. hurricane23
10:32 PM EST on January 09, 2007

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169. HurricaneMyles
3:30 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Buster...You have no idea if they work or not. You dont even know how to do estimate calculations to see if they work. I say estimate because there are far more things involved then bernouli and pascals principles, because those are fairly elementary.
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167. Patrap
9:27 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Itsa Cult of Personality..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
166. Wishcasterboy
3:28 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
I think Randrewl owns the keep.
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165. Wishcasterboy
3:27 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
No Auburn, the kingdom is mine, LOL!
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163. auburn (Mod)
9:25 PM CST on January 09, 2007
wish you earn your keep..lol
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162. Wishcasterboy
3:25 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Once I start, I just can't stop. I see there are others like me here, LOL!
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161. Wishcasterboy
3:21 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
I piss off a few people, so i'm about average. I'm the king of curiosity and I still manage to ignore those hidden comments.
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160. CybrTeddy
3:23 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Hes made to scare Trolls,
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158. Patrap
9:22 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Jeez teddy..dat scared the stuff outta me..LOL!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
157. Patrap
9:21 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Never use those buttons..waste -o-time.Just a data entry.Irrelavent duty.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
156. CybrTeddy
3:21 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
Still fighitng Come on out, trolls who manipulating the non trolls like Rand and Pat?

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155. HurricaneMyles
3:15 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
No buster, you are actually make yourself look more and more rediculous.
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154. Patrap
9:19 PM CST on January 09, 2007
I like ya Pat..really do.But this insanity will be your undoing.Best to move on to relavent material friend.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
151. Wishcasterboy
3:17 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
In other words, you choose to unblock him.
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150. Patrap
9:17 PM CST on January 09, 2007
Someone Pays you?...I want a Job!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125530
149. Wishcasterboy
3:16 AM GMT on January 10, 2007
There's nothing anyone can do about Buster, just don't your standards so low.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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