Temperatures in the contiguous United States last year were the hottest in more than a century of record-keeping, shattering the mark set in 1998 by a wide margin, the federal government announced Tuesday.
The average temperature in 2012 was 55.3 degrees, one degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees higher than the 20th-century average, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. They described the data as part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier and potentially more extreme weather.
The higher temperatures are due in part to cyclical weather patterns, according to the scientists. But the researchers also said the data provided further compelling evidence that human activity — especially the burning of fossil fuels, which produces greenhouse gases — is contributing to changes in the U.S. climate.
The new report has broad ramifications for policy — and everyday life. Americans who might have thought climate change was a problem for the distant future are experiencing warmer temperatures in their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.
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