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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698. Patrap
8:36 PM CST on January 11, 2007
Im out ..LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
697. Patrap
8:36 PM CST on January 11, 2007
LRA.gov Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
695. LowerCal
6:31 PM PST on January 11, 2007
I noticed that the first time you pointed it out Michael.

What I noticed the John Birch Society did is called "cherry picking".
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694. Patrap
8:32 PM CST on January 11, 2007
Road Home to Louisiana Plan..PDf..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
692. LowerCal
6:27 PM PST on January 11, 2007
Posted By: Skyepony at 4:01 PM PST on January 11, 2007.
From the John Birch Society~

Though it is tempting (too tempting for some) to point to this year's weather as exceptional, meteorologist Jeff Masters, founder of the weather geek site Weatherunderground.com, points out in his blog that there is precedent for this year's weather. "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," Masters explains. "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."

It's worth pointing out that Masters is not a global warming skeptic. Instead, he is a scientist, and his blog on this year's temperatures, which includes a number of interesting graphics, is worth reading.


It's also worth pointing out that that they omitted the following comment by Dr. Masters on those winters.

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).
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691. hurricane23
8:50 PM EST on January 11, 2007
Very few models are suggesting La Nina might be around during the heart of the season.Its sure going to be interesting to how all this pans out.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Lets see what Jeff Masters has to say about all this tommorow in his blog.
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690. CybrTeddy
1:48 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
dyan come to my blog?
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689. dylan3112
1:45 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE TO GET THE MODEL THAT ACCUWEATHER USES BY THE NAM TO SHOW WHAT KIND OF PRECIP. IS GOING TO FALL
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688. Patrap
7:20 PM CST on January 11, 2007
7
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
685. Skyepony (Mod)
1:12 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
Current snow cover. Snow is white/light blue, the yellow is clouds.


Click image to make bigger.

How about an east side of Canada shout out...Is this normal? Ya'll freakin out or just enjoying?



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680. Skyepony (Mod)
12:04 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
Here was a few worth highlighting from the Hanson speech..another article on it.

"The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is now completely under the control of humans," he said. "Another Ice Age cannot occur unless humans become extinct."

Hansen's call came one day after the chief of the United Nations' effort against climate change said that despite widespread recognition of the seriousness of global warming, a lack of leadership has created a sense of helplessness.

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678. HurricaneMyles
12:09 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
I dont think heat itself is near as big as a problem as gasses that trap heat in the lower atmosphere.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
673. Skyepony (Mod)
11:55 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
From the John Birch Society~

Though it is tempting (too tempting for some) to point to this year's weather as exceptional, meteorologist Jeff Masters, founder of the weather geek site Weatherunderground.com, points out in his blog that there is precedent for this year's weather. "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," Masters explains. "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."

It's worth pointing out that Masters is not a global warming skeptic. Instead, he is a scientist, and his blog on this year's temperatures, which includes a number of interesting graphics, is worth reading.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
671. Skyepony (Mod)
11:52 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
Exxon seen warming to emission controls
Worlds largest oil company in on meetings to discuss what restrictions on greenhouse gases should look like in the U.S.
January 11 2007: 7:30 AM EST


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- ExxonMobil is said to be in on meetings discussing the potential structure of carbon controls in the U.S., a sign that the company believes curbs on greenhouse gas emissions are looming, according to a news report Thursday.

Exxon (Charts), the world's largest oil company and a longtime skeptic that humans are responsible for global warming, is joining other industries at a series of meetings in Washington and elsewhere to discuss how laws on U.S. carbon control should be written, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Exxon's thinking on global warming has recently become more in-line with those in the scientific community who believe global warming is a human-made reality.

Its current statement on the issue reads "we recognize that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere poses risks that may prove significant for society and ecosystems. We believe that these risks justify actions now, but the selection of actions must consider the uncertainties that remain."
Exxon has also said it has stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that questioned the premise that humans are largely responsible for causing global warming by burning fossil fuels with ad campaigns like ""Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution; we call it life."
Many countries restrict carbon emissions, notably those that have signed the Kyoto Protocol.

But the U.S. has so far resisted mandatory caps on emissions of the principle greenhouse gas, preferring instead a voluntary system which has not resulted in an overall reduction.

Many say the voluntary system will soon be replaced with some type of mandatory controls, especially now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress.

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670. Skyepony (Mod)
11:41 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
Hansen at the Sierra Storm meeting
Hansen, who said he was not speaking for NASA, said that after the warming of the past three decades, the world is within 1C of its warmest period in the past 400,000 years. He predicted that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the same rate, the warming this century will approach 3C, or about 5F.

He forecast that such a change would eliminate up to half the species on Earth and would melt polar ice caps. Subsequently rising ocean levels would inundate Florida, most of Louisiana and much of the East Coast, Hansen said.

"We don't know how long it would take for that to happen," he said.
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665. orionRider
22:06 GMT le 11 janvier 2007
In computer science, we call it the 'ostrich algorithm'. It is part of the very successful Linux kernel. But I wouldn't rely on that to fight global warming.
Have a good night everybody.
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664. orionRider
22:05 GMT le 11 janvier 2007
Better have some extravagant ideas than put someone's head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong.
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659. weatherboykris
9:40 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
Who's Hugh Willouby?And more importantly:Is he a hurricane expert?I asked you before and you didn't give me a straight answer.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
657. weatherboykris
9:37 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
Lili also was the same way.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
655. weatherboykris
9:34 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
weatherboykris,

It would have started to weaken prior to reaching the gulfstream as the feeder bands would be felling the effects, also!


The SSTs below the rainbands don't matter.If they did, Dennis would've been a Cat4 at landfall.Instead,it's core moved over cooler waters and began to weaken,even though rainbands on the back side were still over the warm eddy.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
654. weatherboykris
9:33 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
STL,the GFS is why I'm siding with Accuweather on this.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
653. weatherboykris
9:31 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
CB, OK at least you have ideas, which cannot be said from some 'optimists' (sic) on your side of the ocean.

What was that supposed to mean.People have already tried and failed to modify hurricanes.Realistic poeple realize it won't happen.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
650. orionRider
21:27 GMT le 11 janvier 2007
CB, OK at least you have ideas, which cannot be said from some 'optimists' (sic) on your side of the ocean.
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649. weatherboykris
9:30 PM GMT on January 11, 2007
You'd have both layers of water (warm and cold) at whatever the average temp between the two was before they interacted.Assuming of course, that the cold water doesn't sink instantly.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346

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