2012 - a year marked by droughts, brushfires, and crop damage, was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 U.S. states. Extreme weather events became even more commonplace, establishing an undeniable link between the uptick in heat and climate change. The pattern looks set to continue worldwide this year, with scorching temperatures and brushfires burning through Australia this week.
According to an annual State of the Climate report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average temperature last year was 55.3 degrees - that's 3.3 degrees greater than the average had been during the 20th century. Moreover, the U.S. saw more extreme weather events than any year except for 1998 (which saw many due to an influx of tropical storms). NOAA's report on average global temperatures, meanwhile, will be finished soon, and is expected to mark 2012 as the eighth-hottest year on record worldwide. And the heat, experts say, is here to stay.
"We expect to see a continued trend of big heat events," said Deke Arndt, chief of the NOAA's climate monitoring branch. "We expect to see big rain events, and with slightly less confidence, we expect to see a continued trend in drought. This is consistent with what we would expect in a warming world."
Scientists have stressed the age-old facts that many Americans - and many Republicans in Washington - continue to deny: the higher temperatures are due to human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels.
Experts have added that the GOP-pushed agenda of climate change denial is going to have dire ramifications for the country and for the world. "A hundred years from now, they're not going to be talking about health care or the fiscal cliff," said Vanderbilt Law School professor Michael Vandenbergh. "They're going to ask, 'What did you do when you knew we were going to have serious climate change?'"
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, remarked, "The facts speak for themselves - whether it's NOAA's announcement today that 2012 was the hottest year on record or the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy."
Scientists from the U.S., U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands are involved in a project called the Bighorn Basin Coring Project, which studies hyperthermal events. In a statement, they noted, "In the next 100 years the combination of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increased temperature could be catastrophic for an overpopulated world ... and there will be a scramble to eat a diminishing and less nutritious food supply" as crops dry up and other food resources are damaged by weather events including drought.
Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona, added, "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires. This is certainly what I and many other climate change scientists have been warning about."
Climate change's havoc was witnessed outside of the U.S. this week, when Australia recorded its hottest day on record on January 7 and continues to endure vicious brushfires that damaged and destroyed property and burned away thousands of acres of farmland and forest.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard also drew a link between these disasters and global warming, stating, "We know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."
Photo: A wildfire burns in Miles City, Florida. Josh O'Connor/Flickr & U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast