To say that 2012 was hot is an understatement. The average temperature in the contiguous U.S. last year was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.2 degrees hotter than the 20th century average and 1 degree hotter than the previous record.
One degree may not sound sound like much, but the chart above, by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, shows just what a big deal it really is. Each line displays year-to-date temperature anomalies, going back to 1895. Significant deviations from the average temperature are rare; a small fraction of a degree separates each year. Just 0.2 degree separates the previous record average temperature holder -- 54.3 degrees in 1998 -- from the one before that, 1934.
Last year’s departure from the normal temperature exceeded the previous record's by 29 percent. It’s as if a baseball player smashed Barry Bonds’s juiced-up 73 home-run record with 102 homers in a single season. It’s as if Exxon Mobil’s $45.2 billion profit in 2008 were surpassed by a company raking in $63.3 billion. If last year’s weather were edible, it would make habanero peppers taste mild.