June was the warmest since 1895 in the U.S., surpassing the 1933 record and capping a six-month period which saw eight weather-related disasters that each caused $1 billion in damage or more.
The average June temperature across the 48 contiguous states was 71.8 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius), the National Centers for Environmental Information, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a report Thursday. The first six months were also the third warmest in the U.S., while Alaska experienced its hottest six months on record breaking a mark set in 1981.
Global temperatures were the highest in the 20th century for the first five months of the year after the world posted its two hottest years in 2014 and 2015. There is so much heat in the atmosphere following the El Nino that began last year that there could well be a new all-time high for 2016.
“This was the warmest first five months for the global surface by a wide margin,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist for the agency. “We expect those record warm temperatures to persist even though El Nino is over.”
El Ninos, which can occur every two or three years, warm the surface of the Pacific, which in turn tends to boost global temperatures. While the phenomenon doesn’t cause climate change, it can contribute to warming. The El Nino ended earlier this year.
From June 2015 to May 2016, the world had its warmest 12-month period, according to Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. While he doubts the second half of 2016 will be as warm, it could still end up setting a record.
The heat’s impact on agricultural is uncertain, Crouch said.
“I don’t think it is bad enough yet,” Crouch said.
Hot, dry conditions across the West “entrenched” the drought in California, now in its fifth year, according to the report. It also helped spur several major wildfires, including Southern California’s Erskine fire that charred nearly 48,000 acres, destroyed 280 homes and killed two people.
The Northern and Central Planes, Midwest and Northeast were also hot and dry, while Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming had little rain in June. Just over 44 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry or in some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Meanwhile, June rains caused floods in West Virginia that killed at least 23 people and destroyed 1,500 homes. The Mid-Atlantic states, Southwest and Southern Plains all had above-average rain for the month.
June rainfall for the U.S. was 2.46 inches (6.25 centimeters), 0.47 inch below the 20th century average. For the year, precipitation was 15.58 inches, 0.27 inch above average.
“Above average temperatures spanned the nation from coast to coast,” the agency said in a statement. “Seventeen states across the West, Great Plains and parts of the Southeast had June temperatures that were much above average.”
There were seven weather-related disasters costing at least $1 billion in damages in 2015 through June. The year ended with 10 costing a total of $22.4 billion. Damages from extreme weather have fallen in recent years as few hurricanes have struck the U.S. The worst tornadoes and thunderstorms often occur in summer and spring, though hurricanes often strike in the fall.
The last time a tropical system made the list of $1 billion-plus damage events was in 2012 when both Sandy and Hurricane Isaac struck, causing a total of $70.5 billion in damages. Most of that was caused by Sandy in New Jersey and New York.
“Those big hurricanes can really drive up the annual totals,” Crouch said.