MANHATTAN, Kan. – If ever there was a year to make one think about climate change, it may be this year.
“July marked the 36th consecutive July and 329th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average,” said Johannes Feddema, professor of geography at the University of Kansas. “The last below-average temperature July was July 1976 and the last below-average temperature month was February 1985.”
Feddema, who was speaking at the recent “Adapting to a Changing Climate on the Central Great Plains Conference” hosted by Kansas State University, said that so far, 2012 is the 10th warmest year on record globally, but in the U.S. it is the warmest year on record.
“Farmers already know how dry it is, coming into planting season in the context of their crops,” he said. “We as a society need to think about that, too.”
In more than 117 years of records, July 2012 stands alone as not only the hottest July on record in the lower 48 United States, but also the hottest of any month on record in that time span, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). To put it another way, July 2012 was the hottest of more than 1,400 months that we've gone through since 1895.
The average temperature for the contiguous United States during July was 77.6 degrees F., which was 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average, marking the warmest July and all-time warmest month on record for the nation in a period that dates back to 1895, he added. The previous warmest July for the nation was July 1936, when the average U.S. temperature was 77.4 degrees.
“Our low temperatures now are much higher than they were in the ‘30s,” Feddema said, in comparing this year with the infamous drought years of the 1930s. “If we look back at the 1930s, average global temperatures were not that exceptional globally. The drought generally only affected the central U.S.”
He cited Environmental Protection Agency records covering 100 years from 1900 to 2000, that illustrated the average last spring frost and the first fall frost in the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). Since 1970, the first fall frost has been trending later.
Climate Change and Agriculture
Agriculture contributes to climate change, but also is and will continue to be affected by climate change and variability, said Charles (Chuck) Rice, K-State university distinguished professor in agronomy.
“Citizens are already responding to climate change and some don’t even know it,” said K-State agronomy professor Dan Devlin. “Farmers are planting earlier than they did 30 or 40 years ago. We also have more double-cropping.”