NOAA: Another month spent above average

by Sarah Dillingham
CNN Meteorologist

It’s that time again!  Every month the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released their climate summary for the globe, and in recent months, the story has been the same: more heat and drought for the U.S.  This month seems to have yielded more of the same as September 2012 was warmer than average for the Contiguous U.S., making it the 16th consecutive month of above average temperatures for the Lower 48!  The image above illustrates a few of the climate highlights for the month, several of which focus on extreme heat and drought.

The heat was definitely noticeable across the West for most of September as California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming saw the month rank amongst their 10 warmest on record.  Over the past several months, the U.S. has seen its warmest start to any year on record, and sadly, September only added to this tally.  January-September was officially the warmest first nine months to any year on record for the Lower 48, topping the previous warmest such period in 2006.

Drought and increased wildfire activity also continued across much of the country, and the latest release of the U.S. Drought Monitor on October 2, showed over 64% of the Lower 48 states to be experiencing some form of drought.  The areas of the country seeing exceptional drought, the worst classification of drought, remained confined to around 6% which is at least some good news.  The dry conditions experienced across the Northern Plains and the Northwest last month were at or near record levels, priming those regions for the development of additional wildfires.  Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota experienced record dryness during September, and between those 4 states, there have been more than 1.3 million acres burned so far this year!  Across the country, nearly 1.1 million acres were consumed by wildfires in September alone, making it the 3rd most on record for the month.  As of Tuesday, October 9, 2012, there were 15 active wildfires consuming a combined 644,000 acres, bringing the total number of acres burned this year to a staggering 8.84 million acres. Year-to-date, this total tops the 10-year average by more than 2.1 million acres.

So what can we expect the next few months?  The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issues a three-month outlook each month, and the latest release shows a chance of above average temperatures across the Southwest, Midwest, and extending into the Northeast, with the Great Lakes and Midwest having a greater chance of seeing above average temperatures.  Precipitation amounts could be above average for a large portion of the Southeast, which is great news for residents in Georgia who are still experiencing extreme and exceptional drought.  Below average precipitation is expected to continue across the Pacific Northwest, despite a fairly stormy period setting up later this week.

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