Photo by Shutterstock

It’s official: Last year was the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States. The National Climate Data Center announced today that the average temperature last year obliterated the previous record, which was set in 1998, by a full 1.0°F. Temps were above normal for every single month in the 16-month span between June 2011 and September 2012. Scientists have noted that although natural variability probably had a hand in last year’s record temperatures, signs point to global warming caused by humans as the main reason for the unprecedented heat.

Temperature map, US map, USA temperatures, US temperature map 2012, NOAA

The year started with the fourth-warmest winter on record, which was followed by a record-warm spring that created drought conditions around the country. Wildfires raged in the Western US, while the Midwest farm belt was choked by drought – but it was the summer heat wave that most people will probably remember. According to NOAA, nearly one-third of the US population experienced 10 or more days of summer temperatures above 100° F.

The record temperatures seen in 2012 are “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, told the Washington Post. And he warns that although we won’t see above-average temperatures every day going forward, we will likely see record-breaking temperatures with increasing frequency in the coming years. And with those rising temperatures, we’re likely to see more powerful and destructive storms. According to NOAA, 2012 saw 11 natural disasters – including Hurricane Sandy – that caused at least $1 billion in losses.

Via NCDC, New York Times and Washington Post