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Temperatures Continue to Tick Upwards, NOAA Finds

It’s the new normal, and it’s getting warmer.

This week, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an updated set of climate averages for the contiguous United States based on the last 30 years, and the data shows that the climate has turned warmer. The 30-day average temperature climbed to a record high of 53.28 degrees, The Washington Post reports.

The NOAA releases updated figures every decade, looking back at the previous 30-year period.

Since the climate normals (what the NOAA calls averages) were initially calculated at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has warmed 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius)—about on par with the global rate of warming. In the two most recent 30-year periods, the United States has seen its largest jumps in temperatures—rising 0.5 degrees from the period 1971-2000 to 1981-2010 and 0.46 degrees from 1981-2010 to 1991-2020.

“Since two-thirds of the data (1991–2010) in the new set overlap with the previous version, changes can be subtle, depending on the region, season, and timeframe,” according to NOAA. “Nonetheless, an upward shift in temperature averages is evident, but warming is not ubiquitous across the contiguous U.S. in either geographic space or time of year. Changes vary from season-to-season and month-to-month.”

Precipitation is also on the rise—the national average for the past 30 years was up by 0.34 inches over the last decade’s measurement to reach 31.31 inches nationally. In the 20th century, the average was 29.94 inches. Precipitation varies by region, though; while the eastern two-thirds of the United States are seeing increased rainfall, the Southwest is drying up. In addition, the weather patterns are unreliable—periods of heavy rain or snowfall are separated by longer dry periods, especially in California, and there are signs that a multi-decade megadrought may have set in over the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico.

So what will the effects of these erratic weather patterns and rising temperatures be? The effect on predicting temperature ranges will affect how farmers plan what crops to plant and when, and utilities and state regulators need to use NOAA averages to set rates for electricity and natural gas for heating and cooling buildings, the Post reports. But as the averages shift, even slightly, that can result in large costs for energy producers.

To help these stakeholders use the data more effectively, NOAA is experimenting with providing supplemental data for shorter periods—15 years instead of 30—so temperature averages can be more accurate for the near future.

Rising temperatures mean more natural disasters and severe weather, which put people and enterprises at risk. To learn more about how climate change is affecting security and business continuity, check out the March/April 2021 issue of Security Management.