2012 March temperatures shatter records, as do the first three months

Michael Santo's picture

U.S. government records for weather for the past three months have raised some eyebrows, as well as chart bars, by busting records for warm weather.

The temperature analysis released by the government today is a extraordinary, to say the least. Highlights of the weather summary include:

The January-March interval was the warmest first quarter on record; the average temperature of 42 degrees was 6 degrees above average.

The year spanning April 2011-March 2012 was the warmest stretch of those 12 months on record; at 55.4 degrees, that period was 2.6 degrees above average.

Last month was the warmest March on record (records go back to 1895) at 51.1 degrees; this is 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Also last month, 15,292 records were broken for warmth; 7,775 were new daytime highs in cities across the country and 7,517 were new nighttime highs.

The data was valid for the contiguous United States, which excludes Hawaii and Alaska. Interestingly, Alaska sported the 10th coldest March on record.

Jake Crouch, a NOAA climate scientist who authored the State of the Climate report, said that what stood out for him most was the margin by which the March records were shattered. "That's huge," he said of the 8.6 degree spread.

The average March temperatures were fifteen degrees warmer than the single coldest March on record in 1965: 51.1 versus 36.5 degrees, respectively.

Meteorologists are also impressed with how widespread the warmth is. "What is so amazing to me is that 25 states had their warmest March on record," Chris Dolce, a Weather Channel meteorologist, told msnbc.com. "In addition, another 15 states had a top ten warmest March. Add the two numbers together and that makes a mind-boggling 40 states that had a March that was among their warmest on record."

But don’t expect the climate scientists to be in complete agreement about the causes. While most do agree that some of the increase is likely due to an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as CO2 and hydrocarbons, many also say that the effect is due to the weather pattern called La Nina. It is characterized by changes in Arctic and Atlantic weather patterns that in the previous two winters had actually helped set cold records.

"There are a lot of factors and it's hard to pinpoint one particular thing," Crouch said to msnbc.com, "but this is the kind of thing we'd expect with climate change."

Other climate researchers are more outspoken about the human factor involved. "It's not only what happened in March in North America," said Stu Ostro, a senior Weather Channel meteorologist. "It's the context: the extremity of this extraordinary early-season heat in the U.S. and southern Canada, plus Norway and Scotland breaking their March high temperature records; Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 having their hottest summer on record, even hotter than during the Dust Bowl; the off-the-charts 2010 Russia heat wave along with approximately 20 countries setting high temperature records that summer; and Canada having its warmest winter and year on record in 2010."

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