- Climate scientist says: ‘It’s a guilty pleasure. You’re out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it’s not a good thing’
- Temperatures soar six degrees higher than normal for first three months of the year
Weather records for the first three months of the year have been smashed as the U.S. continues to enjoy a sun-blessed start to 2012.
Temperatures in the lower 48 states, which include Washington and California, were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and six degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The balmy weather has sparked fresh concerns from meteorologists over global warming with one climate scientist claiming it is the weather equivalent of a basketball player on steroids.
Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist who specializes in extreme weather at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said: ‘Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good.
‘It’s a guilty pleasure. You’re out enjoying this nice March weather, but you know it’s not a good thing.’
It is not just sweltering weather in March that has triggered questions over the unseasonably high temperatures, but dates back to the start of the year.
Meteorologists claim an unusual confluence of several weather patterns, including La Nina – when the sea temperature cools three to five celsius lower than normal – was the direct cause of the warm start to 2012.
While individual events can’t be blamed on global warming, some scientists believe this is like the extremes that are supposed to get more frequent because of man-made climate change from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
But the unusual winter heat is mostly a North America phenomenon while much of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has been cold, according to NOAA meteorologist Martin Hoerling.
The first quarter of 2012 broke the January-March record by 1.4 degrees. Usually records are broken by just one or two-tenths of a degree, according to historical U.S. temperature records, which date to 1895.
The hot weather goes back even further. The U.S. winter of 2010-2011 was slightly cooler than normal and one of the snowiest in recent years, but after that things started heating up.
And the summer of 2011 was the second warmest summer on record.
Such has been the unseasonal weather patterns that in some places it was dubbed ‘the year without winter’ – the fourth warmest on record.
Since last April, it’s been the hottest 12-month stretch on record, NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch said.
But last month’s weather sparked questions.
Normally, March averages 42.5 degrees across the the country but the average has been 51.1 this year, which is closer to the average for April.
Only one other time – in January 2006 – was the country as a whole that much hotter than normal for an entire month.
Often called the ‘icebox of America’ because of its cold weather, International Falls, Minnesota, saw temperatures in the 70s for five days in March and there were only three days of below zero temperatures all month.
In March, at least 7,775 weather stations across the States broke daily high temperature records and another 7,517 broke records for night-time heat. In total, that is more high temperature records broken in one month than ever before, Crouch said.
‘When you look at what’s happened in March this year, it’s beyond unbelievable,’ said University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver.
NOAA climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi compared the increase in weather extremes to baseball players on steroids: you can’t say an individual home run is down to steroids, but they are hit more often and the long-held records for home runs fall.
They seem to be falling far more often because of global warming, said NASA top climate scientist James Hansen. In a paper he submitted to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and posted on a physics research archive, Hansen shows that heat extremes aren’t just increasing but happening far more often than scientists thought.
What used to be a 1-in-400 hot temperature record is now a 1 in 10 occurrence, essentially 40 times more likely, said Hansen. The warmth in March is an ideal illustration of this, said Hansen, who also has become an activist in fighting fossil fuels.
Weaver, who reviewed the Hansen paper and called it ‘one of the most stunning examples of evidence of global warming.’