Last year was the warmest year on record for Washington state, as well as Oregon, Montana and Florida, according to climatologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For the entire contiguous United States, 2015 was the second-warmest in 121 years of temperature records going back to 1895. The average temperature last year was 54.4 degrees, some 2.4 degrees above the long-term average, according to NOAA. Only the year 2012 was hotter.
Those extreme U.S. temperatures will contribute to what is expected to be the highest worldwide temperature average on record. Findings are to be completed later this month.
If 2.4 degrees above average does not seem like much, think about raising your home’s thermostat by 2.4 degrees and leaving it there for the entire year, said Deke Arndt, chief of the NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch.
“You would feel the difference,” Arndt said during a telephone briefing this morning, when scientists reported an increasing number of extreme weather events across the United States — from severe winter storms on the East Coast last February to wildfires in the West during the summer to tornadoes across Texas and the Midwest in December.
Changes in temperatures and precipitation are changing ecosystems for plants and animals across the United States and throughout the world.
For the year 2015, every state in the nation was warmer than the long-term average, although various regions of the country acted quite differently. In the West, the year started out warm but ended up cool. In the East, residents began the year with record cold temperatures but ended with unseasonable warm conditions.
In terms of precipitation, 2015 was the third-wettest year on record in the contiguous United States, with a total average of 34.47 inches. That’s 4.5 inches above the long-term average. It was the wettest year on record for Texas and Oklahoma, but Washington was close to average for annual rainfall.
Washington state and the entire West returned to normal temperatures for the month of December, but 29 states across the East, Midwest and South recorded all-time-record highs for the month.
Twenty-three states — including Washington, Oregon and Idaho — were much wetter than average in December, which ranked as not only the warmest December on record across the U.S. but also the wettest.
Record flooding was reported along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, with floods coming several months earlier than normal.
“Record crests and overtopped levees were observed along parts of the Mississippi River and its tributaries; deadly tornadoes ripped through the Southern Plains and Mid-South; and heavy snow/ice was observed from the Southern Rockies to Midwest and New England,” state’s a summary report released by NOAA. “This storm system resulted in at least 50 fatalities across the country — the deadliest weather event of 2015 — and caused over $1 billion in losses, according to preliminary estimates.”
Across the country last year, 10 separate weather-related events caused more than $1 billion each in damages — specifically, a major drought, two major floods, five severe storms, a series of wildfires and a major winter storm, each defined by NOAA based on their timing and location.
Across the West, more than 10 million acres of forestland burned, the greatest extent of fire since record keeping began in 1960.
“We live in a warming world, bringing more big heat events and more big rain events,” Arndt said, adding that the pattern is expected to continue in the coming years.
The extremes seen in the U.S. are being experienced across the globe, he added. The U.S., which takes up 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, experienced its second-warmest year on record. Worldwide, however, it appears that 2015 will go down as the warmest year so far. Global findings are due out in about two weeks.