What's Normal... for the Climate?

What's Normal... for the Climate?

Amber Williams
Published: 07/13/2011

Usually the question ‘What is normal?’ is a subjective discussion-starter that probes the society we live in. It challenges our thoughts about conformity as well as our values. But when asked about the climate, ‘What is normal?’ is no longer a question without concrete answers. What is normal, in terms of temperature, is changing in the United States, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is tracking it.

NOAA recently released new data about the changes in temperature in the U.S. and the results are red, for hotter. The project is called the U.S. Climate Normals. The normals are thirty-year averages of weather information from around the country, which the administration collects from thousands of weather stations. With each new decade, the project members crunch the numbers to see what’s new for temperatures and rainfall nationwide. It’s important to note that the averages are over 10 to 30 years, which means the end results are more than short fluctuations from year to year. Here are some of their maps comparing decades:

Nationwide Changes

(January Minimum Temperatures, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000. By NOAA)


(July Maximum Temperatures, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000. By NOAA)

Most striking in the new maps above is the increase in January lows, especially in the northern states.

In the following maps, you can see that all states saw an increase in mean temperatures, for both highs and lows:

Statewide Changes

(Statewide Changes in Annual Normal Temperature Minimums, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000. By NOAA)


(Statewide Changes in Annual Normal Temperature Maximums, 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000. By NOAA)

Also read:
A New Benchmark for the World’s Carbon, from NASA
Measuring the Carbon in Mangrove Forests: An Important Climate Change Consideration
The Perfect Firestorm: Welcome to the new era of “megafires”