A coast-to-coast spread of fiery temperatures pushed 2016 into the runner-up spot for heat records nationally, but climate scientists called the breadth of last year’s warmth “unparalleled” in the nation’s climate history.
By December’s end, every state was running an average annual temperature that ranked among the warmest seven in records dating back to 1895, according to a report released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And while 2012 maintained its top spot as warmest on record with 26 states ranking hottest that year, it was the massive blanket of sizzle from Rhode Island to Arizona that stood out to researchers at NOAA’s National Center’s for Environmental Information. Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans were among more than 30 cities nationwide to topple first-place heat records in 2016.
“No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature,” the report notes. “All but Iowa, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Utah had one of their warmest five years.”
In Florida, 2016 ranked as the second warmest year on record following 2015. The Sunshine State logged an average annual temperature of 72.5 degrees, which is 2.4 degrees above the 20th century average but just shy of 2015’s average of 73.4 degrees.
In the continental U.S., 10 states placed second in heat rankings for the year. Georgia was the only state to top its heat record, squeaking by 2012’s average temperature of 65.5 with 65.8 degrees. Nationwide, the average temperature was 54.9 degrees, 2.9 degrees above the 20th-century average, but below 2012’s 55.3 degrees.
Global temperature rankings are scheduled to be released Jan. 18, but NASA and NOAA climate scientists said 2016 is a virtual shoo-in for warmest year globally, beating out 2015, which beat out 2014.
Record-topping warm months dominated the year globally, including January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August. September was the second-warmest on record, October was the third and November was the fifth, according to NOAA.
Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s climate monitoring branch at the Centers for Environmental Information, said if 2016 tops 2015, it won’t be by much.
“For the globe, it is very likely that 2016 ends up warmer, at least nominally, than 2015,” Arndt said last month. “It is conceivable that they end up tied, if we have one of the cooler Decembers this century.”
For South Florida, where air conditioners hummed deep into December with autumn offering only a smattering of meager cool fronts, it will be no surprise that coastal areas averaged 76.6 degrees in 2016. That’s enough to put last year in the runner-up spot to 2015’s 77.8 degrees.
“I anticipated we would probably rank second statewide,” said Florida Climatologist David Zierden. “We started the year a little cooler than normal, but every month since March has been above normal. It’s been a consistent warmth.”
It’s uncommon to have the entire nation so warm, he said. Often, large scale circulation patterns will leave one half of the country abnormally warm, where the other half will be cooler.
“But this year, almost every state is warmer than normal at the same time and that’s what the report is saying is unusual,” Zierden said.
Zierden said Florida often lags behind temperature trends, possibly because it is surrounded by water on three sides that help mitigate large temperature swings. And he cautions against thinking the record warm years will be an annual event.
As recently as 2010, Florida had one of its coldest years on record, mustering an average of just 69.2 degrees.
Still, most scientists agree that while yearly temperatures will fluctuate, the long-term trend is for a warmer Earth.
“Climate change has been impacting the globe and the U.S. as a whole,” Zierden said. “That’s pretty clear.”