U.S. Endured Record Heat, Drought, Hurricanes in 2005

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, December 15, 2005 (ENS) - Temperatures across the United States this year were warmer than normal, and will come close to the all-time global annual average temperature, based on preliminary data gathered by scientists at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville.

NOAA scientists say that based on data from the first 11 months of the year, the 2005 annual average temperature for the contiguous United States will likely be 1.0 degree Fahrenheit (0.6°C) above the 1895-2004 mean, making 2005 one of the 20 warmest years on record for the country.

Mean temperatures through the end of November were warmer than average in all but three states. No state was cooler than average.

A July heat wave pushed temperatures soaring beyond 100 degrees, and broke more than 200 daily records established in six western states, NOAA says.


Lake Mead, created by the Hoover Dam, is one of the most important water resources in the West. Water levels in the lake have dropped drastically, leaving an exposed white ring around the shoreline. (Photo courtesy NASA)
A new record of seven consecutive days at - or above - 125°F was established at Death Valley, California. The heat wave spread across the country during late July, scorching the East and prompted record electricity usage in New England and New York.

The 2004-2005 winter was a season of contrasts for the West, with excessive rainfall in the Southwest and severe drought in the Northwest. A parade of winter Pacific storms triggered severe flooding and devastating landslides in southern California and brought the second-wettest winter on record to the Southwest region.

Record and near-record snowpack levels, which were widespread across the Southwest by early spring, eased drought in a region where it had persisted for five years.

But drought conditions worsened in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies in early 2005. Snowpack in much of the region was at record low levels at the end of winter, but above average snow and rain in the following months led to improving drought conditions in much of the region.

During the spring, drought spread across the Midwest and southern Plains. Drought disasters were declared in all or parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Drier-than-average conditions contributed to an active wildfire season that burned more than 8.5 million acres in 2005.

Fires consumed 4.5 million acres in Alaska alone, said NOAA, based on preliminary data from the National Interagency Fire Center. This exceeds the old record set in 2000 for acreage burned in a wildfire season for the United States as a whole.

At the end of November, 18 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate-to-extreme drought based on a widely used measure of drought (the Palmer Drought Index) in contrast to 6 percent at the end of November last year.

Record precipitation fell in the Northeast during the fall with three storm systems affecting the region in October. Nine states in the Northeast had their wettest October since 1895, and the October snowfall record on Mount Washington was shattered when 78.9 inches of snow fell during the month.

More than two feet of snow fell acorss southern New England in late January. This storm ranked as the seventh most extreme snow event in the Northeast as measured by a newly developed Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale index and contributed to the snowiest January on record in Boston.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season set several records. There were 26 named storms with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour. In addition, there were an unprecedented 14 hurricanes, of which seven were major hurricanes - Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.


Hurricane Wilma crosses Florida October 24, 2005, packing winds of 125 miles per hour. (Photo courtesy NASA)
Three Category 5 storms with sustained winds of 156 miles per hour or more - Katrina, Rita, and Wilma - formed in the Atlantic Basin for the first time in a single season.

Four major hurricanes and three tropical storms made landfall in the United States, with an eighth storm, Ophelia. brushing along the North Carolina coast.

The costliest hurricane in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina, led to more than 1,300 deaths along the central U.S. Gulf Coast.

Tropical cyclone activity was below average in the Eastern Pacific and near average in the Western North Pacific basins through early December.

In the Australian region, there were six tropical cyclones during their 2004-2005 season compared to an average of 10.

The Global Picture

The global annual temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces is expected to be very close to the record global temperature that was established in 1998 under the influence of an extremely strong El Niņo episode. There has been no such El Niņo event in 2005, but rather, unusual warmth across large parts of the globe throughout the year.

NOAA is in the process of transitioning to an improved global temperature analysis system. The data analysis system used by NOAA for global temperature analyses over the past eight years indicates that 2005 would likely be the second-warmest year on record - measuring 1.06 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.59 degrees Celsius above the 1880-2004 mean - just marginally lower than 1998.

The largest temperature anomalies were widespread throughout high latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere and included much of Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska.

During the past century, global surface temperatures have increased at a rate near 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit per century or 0.6 degrees Celsius per century, but the rate of temperature increase has been three times larger since 1976, with some of the largest temperature increases occurring in the high latitudes.

Reflecting the global warmth in 2005, a new record was established in September for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite monitoring began in the late 1970s, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

This is part of a continuing trend in end-of-summer Arctic sea ice extent reductions of approximately eight percent per decade since 1979.

The year began with the continuation of a weak El Niņo episode that developed in late 2004, but sea surface temperatures in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific decreased early in the year and the episode ended by late February.

Few impacts from the weak El Niņo occurred worldwide, and neutral conditions persisted for the remainder of the year, although there are some signs that a La Niņa episode might begin in early 2006.

Major weather and climate events for the globe included severe drought in parts of southern Africa and the Greater Horn of Africa; extreme monsoon-related rainfall in western India, including a 24-hour rainfall total of 37.1 inches in Mumbai; the worst drought in decades in the Amazon River basin; severe drought in large parts of western Europe; and a record warm year in Australia.