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How’s The Water: January 18, 2013

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just issued its monthly State of the Climate Report, which said, “2012 was the warmest and second most extreme year on record for the contiguous U.S.” The extreme weather experienced in the lower 48 included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms, although there was less tornado activity than average.

According to the statistics compiled by NOAA, 2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States with the year consisting of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn. “The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year. Every state in the contiguous U.S. had an above-average annual temperature for 2012. Nineteen states had a record warm year and an additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest.

The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 26.57 inches; 2.57 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record for the nation. At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 engulfed 61 percent of the nation with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions. The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres — the third highest on record.”

As residents of the Gulf Coast and the Northeast know to our great regret, Hurricane Isaac, which struck in late August of 2012, and Hurricane Sandy in October caused billions of dollars in damage. Wildfires, including the Waldo Canyon Fire near Boulder, burned 9.2 million acres.

The United States is not the only country being impacted by extreme weather. According to the Wall Street Journal, the temperatures are so hot in Australia that deep purple and magenta are now on the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast map for the country. Purple is for temperatures ranging from 50 degrees celsius to 52 degrees (122 to 125.6 Fahrenheit), while magenta is for 52 degrees to 54 degrees. Temperatures soared to a national record average of 40.33 degrees on Jan. 7, the highest since records began more than 100 years ago, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The previous record of 40.17 degrees was set Dec. 21, 1972. The extreme heat has also sparked a spate of bush fires through the southeastern part of the country, destroying property, livestock and crops.

The island nation of Kiribati is buying 5,000 acres of land on the second-largest island in Fiji, Vanau Levu. The situation is dire because in 1999, three of the uninhabited atolls in the nation went underwater. If sea levels continue to rise at projected levels, it is estimated that by 2100, the entire nation might be submerged. Other nations threatened by sea level rise include the Maldives, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, the Phillipines, Barbados, Egypt, and Tuvalu

Whether you choose to believe climate change is occurring because of human impact or it is a naturally occurring cycle, or perhaps that climate change is a natural cycle which is being exacerbated by humans, clearly, it is occurring and will impact not only our world environment, but the world economy. It will take political will to confront the challenges of addressing climate change, but it is past time to do so. Hurricane Sandy very clearly demonstrated Long Island’s vulnerability to rising sea levels.

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Friends of the Bay’s water quality monitoring season ended on October 22. Water quality data collected by our citizen scientists is posted on the Friends of the Bay website at http://friendsofthebay.org/?page_id=1151. The season will resume on April 1, 2013.