May 9, 2014

Chart of the Week: Climate change is already here

Map of average temperature change in the U.S.

The National Climate Assessment, issued this week by a team of government researchers, minced no words about the impacts of climate change: You’re feeling them now.

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” said the report. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours…Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides…Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage.”

Since records began being kept in 1895, according to the report, the average temperature in the U.S. has risen by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit, with most of that increase occurring since about 1970. The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record, and 2012 was the warmest year on record for the lower 48 states.

While the entire country is predicted to eventually warm anywhere from 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, that warming will be neither linear nor uniform. The map above, created by The New York Times based on data in the climate assessment, shows that different regions of the country already have warmed at different rates. The upper Midwest and Alaska, which already have experienced some of the greatest temperature increases, are projected to continue warming more than the rest of the country.

Nonetheless, Americans are relatively unconcerned about climate disruption compared with other people around the world. In a 39-country survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, 40% of Americans called global climate change a “major threat” — lower than all but six other publics (China, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan) in the survey. More troubling to Americans were North Korea’s nuclear program (59% called it a major threat), Islamic extremist groups (56%) and Iran’s nuclear program (54%).

Category: Chart of the Week

Topics: Energy and Environment

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Rachel Passer3 years ago

    Has anyone here read “How to Lie with Maps” ??? While I’m not one to discredit the concept of climate change and all, I do make maps professionally. My main concern here is that the two datasets being compared aren’t even. Think about it: this map compares temperature data from a 21 year average against a 59 year average. How is that fair? The thing is, if done properly, you can manipulate a map to tell its viewers anything you want, if you fanagle the data enough. There’s a 38 year difference in the amount of datasets being compared. Yeesh.

    What I got from this map was: I want to show the public a noticeably (yet not too overly drastic) climate change in the US, to further convince the public climate change is real and we need to do something about it. Well, I think if you want to convince people, use better methodology and highlight your methodology, don’t just tuck it into one sentence in the bottom of your map. But, at least you did mention the methodology.

    1. Aaron3 years ago

      That’s because going back thousands of years up until about 1960, there was not discernible warming. Just look at the Keeling curve, the upward trend started to spike just in the last few decades, and therefore the correlating warming. Just speaking from where I live, the map seems to be correct.

  2. Big Bad Wolf3 years ago

    It seems like America is getting hotter. But luckily I live in the Midwest

  3. Charles Gill Sfo3 years ago

    Wonder what is going on in the Gulf Coast making for the cooler nominally in the south. As is, a southerner would be correct in arguing against global warming. Where he is at, it is cooler. As to the rest of the world… he neither knows nor cares about that. They are not too bright down there.

  4. Tony Hoskin3 years ago

    A warmer Minnesota, a cooler Mississippi — what’s not to like? 😉

  5. ian3 years ago

    Hibbing Minnesota’s Metar (KHIB) has only been around since 1963 gathering weather data. Mesonet started in the 1990’s. Lots of variability to this data. Using Duluth’s weather data to model increases as well. Duluth’s weather monitoring station was less than a quarter mile away from Lake Superior at the time, (until the 1950’s)that would naturally have much cooler temperatures recorded in earlier time periods (due to lake upwelling). It was also one of only 3 stations in Northern Minnesota to have been recording since 1900. Using Saint Cloud data (Central Minnesota), summers have actually gotten cooler(-.5 degrees C), and winters have gotten warmer (.7) since 1900’s when KSTC started recording. If anybody wants data, I will share that with them. Its also available on the NCDC climate website. Average temperatures have increased overall at STC, but not by as much as the graph leads on for that area.