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

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

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

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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749. Lodestar
8:03 PM CST on February 16, 2007
In measuring Global Warming, do they "ONLY" record the data from the exact same locations every year and "ONLY" the locations that where reporting in the year 1900 - till now?

If not, then they have change the baseline of their data every time new locations are added to their reports.

And many of these original stations are now surrounded by big cities and concrete that were not there back when they started recording this data for temperature change.

Unless all these original reporting stations are isolated or remote and have not been added to, then how in the world could we possible know the amount of global change?

Anyone know the answer?
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748. Patrap
10:29 AM CST on January 12, 2007
Psych class over.BAck to the winter storm a brewing...
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747. Patrap
10:26 AM CST on January 12, 2007
Gift to humanity?..Thats a Humble one......and again..a tunnel cant be built in water.A tube may be erected..but tunnels are Land ..earth works..not water.LOL!
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746. weatherboykris
4:28 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Skye, the Miami NWS is saying seasonal lows will be set next week.
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745. Patrap
10:25 AM CST on January 12, 2007
dignity?....Freud would lovedat one.
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744. Patrap
10:24 AM CST on January 12, 2007
I smell Log Cabin Smoke.snif..sniff
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743. HurricaneMyles
4:23 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Plz, just go away and dont come back. Even if your tunnels were a viable plan there is no dignity in spamming the blog every few hours.
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739. Skyepony (Mod)
4:14 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
The gfs keeps slowing that front down we're looking at like mid next week down in FL now. Another ridge building in, gonna slow it more.

lol, He's been sternly warned & I don't know why not banned. It really ruins the blog & that's all I'm saying on it.
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736. weatherboykris
4:12 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
If we all flagged CB's posts,couldn't we get him banned?
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734. Skyepony (Mod)
4:08 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Michael it may just mean more severe coming though, if the temps behind the front are holding to thier forecast.
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733. weatherboykris
4:08 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Can you people quit talking about how to censor someone and start talking weather here??

That's why isn't it skye?LOL
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732. Skyepony (Mod)
4:07 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Keep increasing the filter & see if at some point your blocked. I can tell you it's higher than CB's:)
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729. Skyepony (Mod)
4:06 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
You can always click on show for a comment if you want to read it anyhow.
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728. weatherboykris
4:06 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
What's my rating?
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727. Skyepony (Mod)
3:55 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
The filter is where Patrap mentions if you go with newest comment 1st. Either way lokk to the right of where it says reader comments (At the top of the comments). This time of year I'll entertain the below average. Sometimes it takes a few refreshes to make it stick, but it's a wonderful feature.

Interesting Michael, being 10 above forecast.
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725. weatherboykris
3:56 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
How does it know who to block?
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723. Patrap
9:42 AM CST on January 12, 2007
The filter is above this post and to the right..Choose a setting..youll see
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722. weatherboykris
3:40 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
ok then.What's the filter?
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721. Skyepony (Mod)
3:13 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
kris~ the guy from the John Birch Society called us weather geeks. Many of us just use the filter to block CB's comments, please don't repost them & ....
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720. Skyepony (Mod)
3:05 PM GMT on January 12, 2007

Mesoscale discussion for this morning's problem area.
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719. weatherboykris
3:02 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
This is a weather forum and it is the proper site for people to talk about such ideas and theories. Other sites have not banned me for coming up with the idea and neither has this one because DR. Masters sees the potential for such an idea!Right Jeff? So what gives with those other sites??BTW Jeff you have the best Weather blog in the world!! I don't care if they call us "WEATHER GEEKS" geeks or not.

I never called you a weather geek,I'm a weather geek .And Dr. Masters never said he supported your idea,I've never even seen him comment on them.
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718. Skyepony (Mod)
2:57 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Rand~ In that article they show snow depth yesterday & today. Overnight, from that storm, has added a 50% + coverage.
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716. Skyepony (Mod)
2:55 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Marc~ it's hard to say this early on.
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715. Skyepony (Mod)
2:53 PM GMT on January 12, 2007

Storms Mostly Wet, Not White, When Traversing U.S. (a few highlights)

Jan. 12, 2007 Skiers, sledders and snowmobilers in the central U.S. and East have been left itching for snow this season as El Nio influences the nation's typical winter weather pattern. In Thursdays daily snow analysis issued by NOAA, only 26 percent of the contiguous U.S. is currently covered by snowwith the greatest aerial coverage and depths across the higher elevations of the West and with relatively paltry amounts in the upper Midwest and Northeast.

Nationally, the current 26 percent snow coverage is on par to the coverage this day last year, but is much less than the 43 percent in 2005 and 33 percent in 2004.

"This is still a young winter season, and it takes just a single storm to drop a fresh blanket of snow and chip away at mounting snowfall deficits," Cline added. He recalled the light amount of snow in January of last year in parts of the East, which was followed by an early February storm that dumped up to 28 inches of snow from the Carolinas to New England.

Well they are optimistic...

check out this daily snow anylasis products.

Here was one of them, it's melting...

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714. MarcKeys
2:40 PM GMT on January 12, 2007
Will this effect the 2007 storm season? Do you expect sea water temperatures to be higher this summer?

Florida Keys Fishing
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713. Patrap
7:29 AM CST on January 12, 2007
I bet you giggle when you see Bubbles in da Bath..
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712. Patrap
7:28 AM CST on January 12, 2007
That DUDE is you.And the Bowl represents your ideas..LOL
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711. Patrap
7:25 AM CST on January 12, 2007
Your wacked...apparently u will never move on..and the proper term ..would be a TUBE..not a tunnel..tunnels are only Built in Earth..never water.Man ..ya really need to move on to something relevant.People are really starting to wonder if your ..er..well. alil off in da BHG.Thats short for Brain Housing Group.
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708. Skyepony (Mod)
5:47 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
The weather geek thing to do here seemed to be to post another bulging earth pic for fun.

The weird thing was in finding the pic I soon discovered the phanominon of the bulging more than usual earth is being blamed on global warming too.

A team of researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the Royal Observatory of Belgium has apparently solved a recently observed mystery regarding changes to the physical shape of Earth and its gravity field. The answer, they found, appears to lie in the melting of sub-polar glaciers and mass shifts in the Southern, Pacific and Indian Oceans associated with global-scale climate changes.

The team of researchers sought to find a climatic reason for the dramatic changes in Earth's gravity field observed since 1997. These changes have resulted from large redistributions of mass around the globe and are characterized by an increased bulge in Earth's equator and mass movement away from the poles - an occurrence known as oblateness, which can be thought of as the difference between a football and a soccer ball; the football has a larger radius at the equator. Their results are published in the December 6 issue of Science.
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707. Skyepony (Mod)
5:46 AM GMT on January 12, 2007

MODIS's thoughts on the warm Dec
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706. Skyepony (Mod)
4:56 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
LowerCal I had thought the same about the cherry picking.

How Antarctic ice affects world climate. Think of the Antarctic ice sheet as Earth's refrigeration unit: It exerts a major two-way control over today's global environment. First, the ice sheet (along with sea ice that surrounds it in the southern ocean) reflects back into space about 80 to 85 percent of the Sun's energy that hits it. So icy Antarctica, which records the lowest temperatures on Earth, helps to reduce the world's overall heat budget. Second, the near-freezing meltwater that runs off the ice sheet, along with the water from melting icebergs, falls to the ocean floor and moves northward. This surge affects deep-sea circulation, which in turn influences climate. A major meltdown would raise sea level worldwide and could modify weather patterns. Drawing source: February 1997 Popular Science (Infographic 1997 by John Grimwade).

Somewhere out there is a more recent study that had the way the Artic & Antartica played with each other & the weather through those currents.

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705. lightning10
4:44 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
Next winter I know we will get some good rain. I have moved onto next season.
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704. weatherboykris
3:37 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
And Dylan, here is the link you asked for Link
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703. weatherboykris
3:31 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
Hey why did these guys ban me and my tunnel idea over there? What are they afraid of?

Cyclonebuster,the other weathersite banned you for the same reason you should be banned here.You contribute nothing to the conversation.Whereas some people such as STL,H23,1900H,Randrewl,and many others including myself do participate in meaningful discussion about weather,you don't.Talk about something other than the tunnels.There is no reason not to.Keep the idea on the table and try to make something happen with it,but don't harass people about it.
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702. Ldog74
3:35 AM GMT on January 12, 2007
Pat, what a wonderful picture.
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701. LowerCal
6:48 PM PST on January 11, 2007
Michael it is interesting. I could speculate on a reason but it would just be speculation ... and maybe it's just a coincidence.

Have any relationships of weather patterns between N&S Hemispheres ever been established?
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