New climate data indicates new warmer “normal” temperatures


DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CA JULY 14: Heat waves rise near a heat danger warning sign on the eve of the AdventurCORPS Badwater 135 ultra-marathon race on July 14, 2013 in Death Valley National Park, California. Billed as the toughest footrace in the world, the 36th annual Badwater 135 starts at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, 280 feet below sea level, where athletes begin a 135-mile non-stop run over three mountain ranges in extreme mid-summer desert heat to finish at 8,350-foot near Mount Whitney for a total cumulative vertical ascent of 13,000 feet. July 10 marked the 100-year anniversary of the all-time hottest world record temperature of 134 degrees, set in Death Valley where the average high in July is 116. A total of 96 competitors from 22 nations are attempting the run which equals about five back-to-back marathons. Previous winners have completed all 135 miles in slightly less than 24 hours. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Whenever you hear any kind of atmospheric scientist reference an average temperature, they’re most likely using the 30 year averages released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) is the branch of NOAA that is responsible for releasing new 30 year averages. The official normals are calculated for a uniform 30 year period every 10 years, and consist of annual/seasonal, monthly, daily, and hourly averages and statistics of temperature, precipitation, and other climatological variables from almost 15,000 U.S. weather stations. 

This new information is not only required by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the National Weather Service (NWS), but it’s helpful to anyone looking to pack the right clothes for a vacation, farmers to help plant the right crops, and local and national utility companies to plan for seasonal energy use.

The new 30 year averages across the U.S. have indicated that a majority of the country has continued a warming pattern besides portions of the Upper Midwest.

Average annual temperature change in degrees Fahrenheit for the contiguous U.S. from the 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals to the newest data in the 1991–2020 Normals, released by NOAA, May 2021. Averages indicate a warming pattern occurred in all but portions of the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains. Courtesy of CISESS.
Annual U.S. precipitation changes by percentage from the 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals to the newest data in the 1991–2020 Normals, released by NOAA, May 2021. Decreases indicate a drier Southwest, and increases indicate wetter sections of the Northern Plains, Great Lakes region, and Southeast. Courtesy of CISESS.

Closer to home, Austin saw a continued increase in temperatures from the 1981-2010 averages to the new normals of 1991-2020.

30-year average temperatures have increased every year since the 1970s

In addition to the overall increase in temperatures, the average coldest high temperature which occurs in the middle of January was 61 degrees according to the 1981-2010 data. It has now increased to 62 degrees.

The hottest high temperature which occurs in late July and early August also saw an increase from 98 degrees with the 1981-2010 data, to 99 degrees with the 1991-2020 data.

A chart composed by Keith White at the National Weather Service office for Austin/San Antonio compiles even more specific data found below.

Some of the key takeaways from this chart is something we’ve known would be a result of climate change.

The first being what has already been addressed, and that’s that temperatures have risen across Central Texas. Most notably at Austin Mabry and Austin Bergstrom where there have been an increase of about 2 weeks of 90 degree days (line 4).

The second indication of climate change deals with precipitation. Warnings for precipitation extremes (or lack thereof) have been issued in the past. Average Precipitation (line 8) indicates that precipitation has increased for Central Texas. However, the days with at least 0.10″ (line 10) of rain has decreased while the number of days with 1.00″ (line 12) of rain has increased.

What this means is that while overall precipitation has increased. We’re getting fewer and fewer days of rain. But when it does rain, it really does pour.

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