KSJ Tracker August 9, 2012

Hottest July on record

The news was straightforward and dramatic: July was the hottest month recorded in the lower 48 states since record-keeping began in 1895.

"July thereby dethroned July 1936, which had set the record at 77.4 degrees," wrote Joanna M. Foster in The New York Times. This July clocked in at an average temperature of 77.6 degrees. Foster got the context right: "A vast majority of scientists agree that such events will become ever more common as the planet warms," she wrote, while explaining that it was difficult to tie human-induced climate change to any specific weather pattern.

Seth Borenstein at the AP collected a lot of numbers. Not only did July set a record, he wrote, but three of the nation's five hottest months have been July of this year, July, 2011, and July 2006. And this July was 3.3 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. In 32 states, July, 2012 was among the warmest Julys. And August, 2011 through July was the warmest 12 months on record. He spreads these numbers out a bit more than I do, and makes it relatively easy to keep things straight.

He also notes something others missed. The U.S. Climate Extreme Index, which is an amalgam of data on temperature, hurricanes and tropical storms, drought, and downpours, was at 37 percent in July. (The percentage, Borenstein explains, mostly reflects how much of the nation is experiencing extremes.) The average for this index is 20 percent.

Doyle Rice and Chuck Raasch of USA Today use fewer numbers, but they convey the same message, with a discouraging look forward to this month. Their lede: "Leaving the Dust Bowl in the dust, July was the hottest month in U.S. history, and August promises little relief."

The Washington Post ran Borenstein's story, but apparently didn't think the story worth covering on its own. (I couldn't find anything else when I searched the site.) But hey--Who in Washington cares about climate change? Everybody already knows that it's (1) a hoax, or (2) a calamity or (3) something we shouldn't talk about in this election year. Let's not confuse them with facts.

Patrik Jonnson at thge Christian Science Monitor began this way: "If August is feeling a tad cooler than normal, it's probably because the month you just left behind--that would be July--was historic for its heat." Cute, but better, perhaps, to cut right to the new record, rather than back into it.

Deborah Zabarenko at Reuters also stuffed her copy pretty seriously with numbers. She gave temperatures in Celsius and Fahrenheit, which cluttered things up a bit. Can Reuters not send the Fahrenheit temperatures to the U.S. and the Celsius numbers to Europe?

The coverage was generally clear and on target. But unlike Olympic records, these are not records we will cheer.

-Paul Raeburn


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