Breaking: 2016 heat was “unparalleled” in U.S. climate history

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that 2016 ranked as the second warmest on record for the United States, finishing the year with an average temperature 2.9 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

According to the annual report, 2016 came just short of beating 2012, the current record-holder of warmest year in measures that go back 122 years.

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The average annual temperature in 2016 was 54.9 degrees, while 2012 finished at 55.3 degrees.

No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature, the report found.

Read: 2016’s top 5 weather events in South Florida 

“The breadth of the 2016 warmth is unparalleled in the nation’s climate history,” the report notes. “No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature.”

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For Florida, 2016 was the second warmest year on record, falling behind 2015. Monday’s report shows the average annual temperature for Florida last year was 72.5 degrees, 2.4 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

Florida’s average temperature in 2015 was 73.4 degrees.

In West Palm Beach, 2016 was the 5th warmest year on record, with an average temperature of 77.3 degrees. There were also 100 days where the temperature reached 90 degrees or higher at Palm Beach International Airport, which is well above the 30-year average of 69 days.

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In the continental U.S., 10 states placed second in heat rankings for the year. Georgia was the only state to top its heat record, squeaking by 2012’s average temperature of 65.5 with 65.8 degrees. Nationwide, the average temperature was 54.9 degrees, 2.9 degrees above the 20th century average, but below 2012’s 55.3 degrees.

Global temperature rankings are scheduled to be released Jan. 18, but NASA and NOAA climate scientists said 2016 is a virtual shoo-in for warmest year globally, beating out 2015, which beat out 2014.

Record-topping warm months dominated the year globally, including January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August. September was the second-warmest on record, October was the third and November was the fifth, according to NOAA records.

Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s climate monitoring branch at the Centers for Environmental Information, said if 2016 tops 2015, it won’t be by much.

“For the globe, it is very likely that 2016 ends up warmer, at least nominally, than 2015,” Arndt said last month. “It is conceivable that they end up tied, if we have one of the cooler December s this century.”

For South Florida, where air conditioners hummed deep into December with autumn offering only a smattering of meager cool fronts, it will be no surprise that coastal areas averaged 76.6 degrees in 2016. That’s enough to put last year in the runner-up spot to 2015’s 77.8 degrees.

“I anticipated we would probably rank second statewide,” said Florida Climatologist David Zierden. “We started the year a little cooler than normal, but every month since March has been above normal. It’s been a consistent warmth.”

Zierden said Florida often lags behind temperature trends, possibly because it is surrounded by water on three sides that helps mitigate large temperature swings. And he cautions against thinking the record warm years will be an annual event.

As recently as 2010, Florida had one of its coldest year’s on record, mustering an average of just 69.2 degrees.

Still, most scientists agree that while yearly temperatures will fluctuate, the long-term trend is for a warmer Earth.

“Clearly, climate change has been impacting the globe and the U.S. as a whole,” Zierden said. “That’s pretty clear.”

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