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Climate Experts Worry as 2006 Is Hottest Year on Record in U.S.

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    Climate Experts Worry as 2006 Is Hottest Year on Record in U.S. By Marc Kaufman Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, January 10, 2007; Page A01 Last year
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 10, 2007
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      Climate Experts Worry as 2006 Is Hottest Year on Record in U.S.

      By Marc Kaufman
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Wednesday, January 10, 2007; Page A01

      Last year was the warmest in the continental United States in the past
      112 years -- capping a nine-year warming streak "unprecedented in the
      historical record" that was driven in part by the burning of fossil
      fuels, the government reported yesterday.

      According to the government's National Climatic Data Center, the
      record-breaking warmth -- which caused daffodils and cherry trees to
      bloom throughout the East on New Year's Day -- was the result of both
      unusual regional weather patterns and the long-term effects of the
      buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

      Even by the standards of a year in which winter has seemed to miss the
      Washington region, Saturday's record high temperatures at two area
      airports are called "absurdly warm."

      "People should be concerned about what we are doing to the climate,"
      said Jay Lawrimore, chief of the climate monitoring branch of the
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Burning of fossil
      fuels is causing an increase in greenhouse gases, and there's a broad
      scientific consensus that is producing climate change."

      The center said there are indications that the rate at which global
      temperatures are rising is speeding up.

      Average temperatures nationwide in 2006 were 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit
      higher than the mean temperatures nationwide for the 20th century, the
      agency said. It reported that seven months in 2006 were much warmer
      than average, and that last month was the fourth-warmest December on
      record. Average temperatures for all 48 contiguous states were above
      or well above average, and New Jersey logged its hottest temperatures

      Many researchers are concerned that rising temperatures could lead to
      widespread melting of the polar ice caps, resulting in higher sea
      levels and more extreme droughts and storms. But NOAA also pointed to
      one silver lining: The unusually warm temperatures from October to
      December helped keep residential energy use for heating 13.5 percent
      below the average for that period.

      NOAA said an El Ni?o weather pattern in the equatorial Pacific also
      contributed to the warm temperatures by blocking cold Arctic air from
      moving south and east across the nation.

      Climate experts generally do not make much of temperature fluctuations
      over one or two years, but Lawrimore said the record 2006 temperatures
      were part of a long and worrisome trend. For instance, NOAA said, the
      past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for
      the continental United States.

      Advocates for more action to control carbon dioxide emissions also
      voiced concern.

      "No one should be surprised that 2006 is the hottest year on record
      for the U.S.," said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the
      Union of Concerned Scientists, a public interest group. "When you look
      at temperatures across the globe, every single year since 1993 has
      been in the top 20 warmest years on record."

      "Realistically, we have to start fighting global warming in the next
      10 years if we want to secure a safe environment for our children and
      grandchildren," she said.

      Lawrimore said other NOAA research has found that the rate of
      temperature increase has been significantly greater in the past 30
      years than at any time since the government started collecting
      national temperature data in 1895. Globally, 2005 was the hottest year
      on record, Lawrimore said, and 2006 was slightly cooler.

      He said that although there is a scientific consensus that carbon
      dioxide from cars, power plants and factories is leading to global
      warming, there is no consensus yet on whether the warming will
      increase more quickly or more slowly in the future. Some researcher
      have predicted that temperatures worldwide will increase by a
      catastrophic 7 to 8 degrees on average by the end of the century,
      while others project an increase of a more modest 2 degrees by
      century's end.

      The burning of oil and other fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide,
      which rises, blankets the Earth and traps heat. Climate scientists
      report that there has not been this much carbon dioxide in the
      atmosphere in the past 650,000 years.

      The Bush administration has rejected proposals to cap carbon dioxide
      emissions or impose carbon taxes as a way to limit global warming.
      Lawrimore said he believes the problem could and should be addressed
      by developing new technologies for powering vehicles and industry.

      Late December's springlike temperatures in the eastern two-thirds of
      the country made it the fourth-warmest December on record in the
      United States and contributed greatly to the record high for the year.
      Several Northern cities were unusually warm -- with Boston 8 degrees
      above average and Minneapolis-St. Paul 17 degrees above average for
      the last three weeks of the month.

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