On a day when much of the US struggled with bone-chilling cold, federal meteorologists said America’s weather in 2014 wasn’t really that bad.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Thursday that the US average temperature in 2014 was half a degree warmer than normal and that weather was less disastrous and drought-struck than in previous years. While 2014 was warmer than 2013 in the lower 48 states, it was still only the 34th warmest on record.
That contrasts with the experience of the world as a whole. Globally, it will probably go down as the warmest year on record.
Japan’s meteorological agency has already calculated 2014 as the warmest year worldwide. The NOAA and NASA will announce global 2014 figures next week, but data through November points toward a new record. The US covers only 2% of the world’s surface; eastern North America was about the only exception to the “hot” rule globally last year, and even that chill was outweighed nationally by record heat in the west, said NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch.
It was the 18th straight year US temperatures were warmer than the 20th-century average.
“This fits within the context of a long-term warming trend both here and around the globe,” Crouch said.
California, Nevada and Arizona had their hottest year in 120 years of record keeping, while Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico each had one of their five warmest years on record.
Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Michigan each had one of their 10 coldest years on record.
“It was a strange year for the US,” said University of Illinois climate scientist Donald Wuebbles. “The extreme warmth and droughts in the western US and the extreme cold winter and cooler summer in the east and midwest were largely driven by blocking patterns at high latitudes in the Arctic.”
Wuebbles said those blocking patterns meant warmer Alaskan temperatures and cold invasions south – such as last January’s (and, probably, this week’s) deep chill.
For the first time in 101 years of record keeping, Anchorage, Alaska, never got below zero in 2014, Crouch said.
Last year there were eight weather disasters that caused more than $1bn in damage, according to the NOAA. The last five years have averaged 10 such billion-dollar disasters each.
Munich Re, an international insurance giant, calculated that natural disasters – including earthquakes – caused $15.3bn in US insured losses in 2014, down from an average of $29bn between 2000 and 2013.
The area of the US affected by drought shrank 2% from 2013, yet California’s historic drought continues, the NOAA said.