CHICAGO - The year 2012 was the warmest on record for the contiguous United States, beating the previous record by a full degree in temperature, a government climate agency said on Tuesday.
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the average temperature in 2012 in the contiguous United States was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit (12.94 degrees Celsius), 3.2 degrees above the average recorded during the 20th century and 1.0 degree above 1998, until now the hottest on record. The contiguous United States excludes Alaska and Hawaii.
The agency also confirmed what many farmers in the nation's midsection and many residents of the western part of the country already knew: 2012 was drier than average.
The year was 15th driest year on record, it said. At the peak of the heat in July 2012, 61 percent of the country was in drought, NOAA said, including the nation's breadbasket of the Midwest, as well as the Southwest and Mountain West, where wildfires charred 9.2 million acres.
The agency's US Climate Extremes Index, which tracks volatility in temperature and precipitation as well as the number of tropical cyclones making landfall, was twice as active as normal in 2012, the agency said. Only 1998 had more extreme weather, NOAA said.