Category Archives: Climate

2012 was hottest year on record for U.S.

No doubt about it: 2012 was toasty. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 was not only the warmest on record for the lower 48 since 1895 but also the second worst on a measure known as the Climate Extremes Index, which includes factors such as temperature anomalies, drought patterns, and the strength of tropical storms (you can create your own visualizations of the index here).

I’ve put together some of the summary graphics from the report and related media coverage in this slide deck.

2012 was hottest year on record in U.S. from EcoWest on Vimeo.

It was definitely an abnormal weather year for the American West (when was the last year that felt “normal”!?). Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico all had their hottest years on record, while 2012 ranked second warmest for Colorado and Nevada. The story for precipitation was more varied, with many inland states suffering a deep drought as Oregon and Washington experienced some of their wettest years since the late 19th century.

2012 precipitation state rankings
2012 statewide rankings for precipitation. Source: National Climatic Data Center

Nationwide, the extent of snow cover was the third smallest since 1966/1967. In the West, areas outside of the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest had a meager snowpack by April 1, 2012.

April 1 2012 snowpack
Snowpack on April 1, 2012. Source: National Climatic Data Center

It’ll be interesting to see if this stark summary of extreme weather in the United States gains any traction in the national conversation. This report is currently the top story on the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post.

For more on the effects of rising temperatures in the American West, check out our climate deck.


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Wind and ocean currents visualized

You may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but the data that climate researchers collect can certainly deliver some beautiful visualizations of the currents constantly swirling in the skies and oceans.

Witness the Perpetual Ocean, a project of NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. This video, shown below, depicts the flow of ocean currents around the globe. Others have noted how the viz resembles van Gogh’s Starry Night painting.

Similarly, a couple of ex-Google employes have produced a great visualization of winds in the United States. The map from is updated hourly with data from the National Digital Forecast Database. The viz doesn’t embed easily, but below is a screenshot of the map.

Wind map

Animation of global warming since 1880

NASA has produced a fascinating animation showing how global temperatures have been changing since the late 19th century. You can really see things heat up starting in the 1970s.

2011 was the 5th warmest year on record, as NASA’s James Hanson noted: “We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting . . . So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”