Record High Temperatures Far Outpace Record Lows Across U.S.

Highlights

  • Spurred by a warming climate, daily record high temperatures
    occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the
    continental United States
  • “Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather
    in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, the lead author
    and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric
    Research (NCAR). “The ways these records are being broken
    show how our climate is already shifting.”
  • If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and
    lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead, for the
    period from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2009, the continental United
    States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country
    experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves.

    A record daily high means that temperatures were warmer on a given day
    than on that same date throughout a weather station’s history.

  • The study also found that the two-to-one ratio across the country as
    a whole could be attributed more to a comparatively small
    number of record lows than to a large number of record highs. This indicates
    that much of the nation’s warming is occurring at night, when temperatures
    are dipping less often to record lows. This finding is consistent with
    years of climate model research showing that higher overnight lows should
    be expected with climate change.
  • “If the climate weren’t changing, you would expect the number of
    temperature records to diminish significantly over time,”
    says Claudia Tebaldi, a statistician with Climate Central
    who is one of the paper’s co-authors. “As you measure the high and
    low daily temperatures each year, it normally becomes more
    difficult to break a record after a number of years. But
    as the average temperatures continue to rise this century,
    we will keep setting more record highs.”

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