FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 file photo, the remains of a carp are seen on the dry lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas. According to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, the new United States normal is not just hotter, but wetter in the eastern and central parts of the nation and considerably drier in the West than just a decade earlier. (AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez)

FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 file photo, the remains of a carp are seen on the dry lake bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas. According to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, the new United States normal is not just hotter, but wetter in the eastern and central parts of the nation and considerably drier in the West than just a decade earlier. (AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez)

America’s new normal: A degree hotter than two decades ago

America’s new normal temperature is a degree hotter than it was just two decades ago.

By Seth Borenstein

AP Science Writer

America’s new normal temperature is a degree hotter than it was just two decades ago.

Scientists have long talked about climate change — hotter temperatures, changes in rain and snowfall and more extreme weather — being the “new normal.” Data released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put hard figures on the cliche.

The new United States normal is not just hotter, but wetter in the eastern and central parts of the nation and considerably drier in the West than just a decade earlier.

Meteorologists calculate climate normals based on 30 years of data to limit the random swings of daily weather. It’s a standard set by the World Meteorological Organization. Every 10 years, NOAA updates normal for the country as a whole, states and cities — by year, month and season.

For the entire nation, the yearly normal temperature is now 53.3 degrees based on weather station data from 1991 to 2020, nearly half a degree warmer than a decade ago. Twenty years ago, normal was 52.3 degrees based on data from 1971 to 2000. The average U.S. temperature for the 20th century was 52 degrees.

Meteorologists in the U.S. use temperature datasets spanning 30 years to calculate temperature normals. The U.S. normal annual temperature is now 53.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meteorologists in the U.S. use temperature datasets spanning 30 years to calculate temperature normals. The U.S. normal annual temperature is now 53.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

The new normal annual U.S. temperature is 1.7 degrees hotter than the first normal calculated for 1901 to 1930.

“Almost every place in the U.S. has warmed from the 1981 to 2010 normal to the 1991 to 2020 normal,” said Michael Palecki, NOAA’s normals project manager.

Fargo, North Dakota, where the new normal is a tenth of a degree cooler than the old one, is an exception, but more than 90% of the U.S. has warmer normal temperatures now than 10 years ago, Palecki said.

In Chicago and Asheville, North Carolina, the new yearly normal temperature jumped 1.5 degrees in a decade. Seattle, Atlanta, Boston and Phoenix had their normal annual temperature rise by at least half a degree in the last decade.

Charlottesville, Virginia, saw the biggest jump in normal temperatures among 739 major weather stations. Other large changes were in California, Texas, Virginia, Indiana, Arizona, Oregon, Arkansas, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Alaska.

New normals are warmer because the burning of fossil fuels is making the last decade “a much hotter time period for much of the globe than the decades” before, said Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald.

For Phoenix, the biggest change in normal came in precipitation. The normal annual rainfall for Phoenix dropped 10% down to 7.2 inches. Rainfall in Los Angeles dropped 4.6%.

At the same time, Asheville saw a nearly 9% increase in rainfall, while New York City’s rainfall rose 6%. Seattle’s normal is 5% wetter than it used to be.

Climate scientists are split about how useful or misleading newly calculated normals are.

Mahowald and University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado said updating normal calculations helps city and regional planners to prepare for flooding and drought, farmers to decide what and when to plant, energy companies to meet changing demands and doctors to tackle public health issues arising from climate change.

But Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said he prefers a constant baseline such as 1951 to 1980, which is what NASA uses. Adjusting normal every 10 years “perverts the meaning of ‘normal’ and ‘normalizes’ away climate change,” he said in an email.

North Carolina’s state climatologist Kathie Dello said, “It seems odd to still call them normals because 1991-2020 was anything but normal climate-wise.”

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 22

David Holmes digs through a pile of boardgames during Platypus Gaming’s two-day mini-con over the weekend at Douglas Public Library and Sunday at Mendenhall Public Library. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Good times keep rolling with Platypus Gaming

Two-day mini-con held at Juneau Public Library.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau man indicted on child pornography charges

A Juneau man was indicted Thursday on charges of possessing or accessing… Continue reading

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Juneau’s municipal and state legislative members, their staff, and city lobbyists gather in the Assembly chambers Thursday meeting for an overview of how the Alaska State Legislature and politicians in Washington, D.C., are affecting local issues.
Local leaders, lawmakers and lobbyists discuss political plans for coming year

Morning meeting looks at local impact of state, national political climates.

This photo shows pills police say were seized after a suspicious package was searched. (Juneau Police Department)
Police: 1,000 fentanyl pills, 86 grams of meth seized

Juneau man arrested on felony charges.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 27, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Captain Anne Wilcock recieves the Emery Valentine Leadership Award at the 2022 CCFR awards banquet on Saturday, Jan. 14. (Courtesy Photo / CCFR)
CCFR honors responders during annual banquet

Capital City Fire/Rescue hosted its 2022 awards banquet earlier this month as… Continue reading

A resident and his dog walk past the taped off portion of the Basin Road Trestle after it suffered damaged from a rockslide earlier this week. The trestle is open to pedestrians, but will remain closed to vehicular traffic until structural repairs are made, according to city officials. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Rocky road: Basin Road Trestle open to pedestrians, remains closed to vehicles

City officials say repairs are currently being assessed after damaging rockfall

Most Read