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July burns up the records, becoming hottest U.S. month ever

August 08, 2012|By Neela Banerjee
  • A New York City firefighter cools off. This is the hottest year on record in the Northeast, according to data released by the Northeast Regional Climate Center in Ithaca, N.Y.
A New York City firefighter cools off. This is the hottest year on record… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

July was the hottest month ever recorded in the United States, beating the previous record set in the 1930s Dust Bowl era, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The average temperature in the contiguous 48 states last month was 77.6 degrees, 3.3 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century under a system of recordkeeping that began in 1895 and is part of NOAA’s monthly State of the Climate Overview.  

The superlative now attached to July 2012 only sharpens the details of a relentlessly grim summer. More than 60% of the country is in the grip of “moderate or exceptional” drought, according to NOAA, an increase of 7% from the end of June.  

PHOTOS: Severe U.S. drought

Crops and livestock have been devastated.  Much of the nation faces the threat of wildfire.

“Over 2 million acres were burned nationwide during July due to wildfires, nearly half a million acres above average,” NOAA reported.

The NOAA data arrive in the wake of a new research paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That paper argues exceedingly high summer temperatures, longer summers and related catastrophes, such as wildfire and drought, are poised to be the norm -- and that they're driven by climate change.

Before 1980, sharp abnormalities from normal temperature variance over a given month occurred very rarely. Now, they are occurring 10% of the time, according to James E. Hansen, the paper’s lead author and the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  

The extreme summer weather and growing evidence of its relationship to climate change prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to lambast climate change contrarians, including some of his own colleagues.

“The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American,” Reid said at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday. “A large majority of people finally believe climate change is real, and that it is the cause of extreme weather. Yet despite having overwhelming evidence and public opinion on our side, deniers still exist, fueled and funded by dirty energy profits.

"These people aren't just on the other side of this debate. They're on the other side of reality.”

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neela.banerjee@latimes.com

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