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2006 Weather Highlights
12/29/2006 Editors


The average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. will likely be the third warmest on record in 2006, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The year is noted for widespread drought and record wildfires, as well as heavy precipitation and flooding in some parts of the country. Following the warmest year on record for the globe in 2005, the annual global temperature for 2006 is expected to be sixth warmest since recordkeeping began in 1880.

U.S. Temperatures
NOAA scientists report that the 2006 annual average temperature for the contiguous United States (based on preliminary data) will likely be 2 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) above the 20th Century mean, which would make 2006 the third warmest year on record, slightly cooler than 1998 and 1934. Three months (January, April and July) were either warmest or second warmest on record, while only September and October were cooler than average.

The warmer than average conditions impacted residential energy demand for the U.S. in opposing ways as measured by the nation's Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index. Using this index, NOAA scientists determined that the nation's residential energy demand was approximately 9 percent less during the winter and 13 percent higher during the summer than that which would have occurred under average climate conditions.

The near-record warm summer was highlighted by a July heat wave that peaked during the last half of July. All-time records were set in a number of locations across the central and western U.S., breaking records that had stood for decades in many places.

U.S. Precipitation and Drought
For the contiguous U.S. as a whole, five of the first seven months of the year were drier than average. Combined with unusually warm temperatures, drought conditions persisted in much of the country. By late July, half of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate to exceptional drought, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Above average precipitation from August through November helped end drought in many areas, although in places such as western Washington, record rainfall in November led to extensive flooding. Drought coverage fell from the July peak to 25 percent by early December. Widespread severe drought remains over much of the southern Plains, the northern High Plains and northern Rockies, as well as parts of Arizona and Minnesota.

Drought and anomalous warmth contributed to a record wildfire season for the nation, with more than 9.5 million acres burned through early December, most of it in the contiguous U.S., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Tropical Cyclones and Hurricanes
The 2006 hurricane season was classified as near-normal. This activity was far less than most other seasons since the current active Atlantic hurricane era began in 1995. Nine, the number of named storms during the 2006 season, is the second lowest since 1995. Only the below-normal 1997 season had fewer. This reduced activity in both years is attributed largely to the rapid onset of El Niño in the equatorial Pacific, which suppresses conditions conducive to hurricane formation in the Atlantic.

Also related to El Niño, the Eastern Pacific hurricane season showed a sharp increase in activity compared to the below-normal levels seen since 1998. Through early December, 19 named storms (1971-2000 average is 15-16) had formed, with three making landfall along the Pacific coast of Mexico, including Major Hurricane Lane, which made landfall in Sinaloa state as a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The global annual temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces is expected to be sixth warmest on record for 2006. Some of the largest and most widespread warm anomalies occurred in southern Asia and North America. Canada experienced its warmest winter and warmest spring since its national records began in 1948.

Including 2006, six of the seven warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the ten warmest years have occurred since 1995. The global average surface temperature has risen between 0.6 degrees C and 0.7 degrees C since the start of the 20th Century, and the rate of increase since 1976 has been approximately three times faster than the century-scale trend.

The extent of Arctic sea ice was second lowest on record in September, when annual sea ice extent is at its lowest point of the year. This was only slightly higher than the record low extent measured in 2005. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this is part of a continuing trend in end-of-summer Arctic sea ice extent reductions of approximately eight percent per decade since 1979, when recordkeeping began.

El Niño conditions developed in September, and by the end of November, sea surface temperatures in most of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific were more than 1.8 degrees F (1 degrees C) above average. This El Niño event is likely to persist through May 2007, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

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