Hottest Ever?

Maybe you've seen the headlines: "Hottest year on record" and "Feeling the heat: First half of 2012 is the warmest on record."

"It's been a hot year. In fact, the first six months of 2012 accounted for the warmest January-through-June period on record for the contiguous U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Monday."

Aha! Note the phrase, "contiguous U.S." You know how big the contiguous US is? Its area is just 1.5% of the planet's surface. Brazil is bigger.

So how did the planet do this year? NASA/GISS has the data, but only through May so far. Here is where 2012 global temperatures stand (Combined Land-Surface Air and Sea-Surface Water).

  • 2nd warmest May.
  • 6th warmest spring (Mar-May).
  • 10th warmest Jan-May.
  • 14th warmest winter (Dec-Feb).
  • 21st warmest January.

In fact, every single month of 1998 was warmer than that same month in 2012 so far.

And how much about an entire year can we tell from its first five months? Not all that much, actually. Since 1881, the whole year average could differ from the first-five-month average by up to +0.16 degrees Celsius. If 2012 stays within that range, it could turn out to the hottest on record (by about 0.01 degrees), or only the 20th hottest.

Despite the alarmist headlines, the underlying data are consistent with the conclusion that global warming has been in hiatus for the last 15 years or so.

If anything, one might be curious why the contiguous US reads hotter than the rest of the planet. Could it have something to do with where we put the thermometers?

Randall Hoven can be followed on Twitter.