NOAA updates new climate normals; Central PA trending warmer

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U.S. NOAA Climate Normals were updated this week. The climate normals, updated by NOAA NCEI once every ten years, are 30-year averages of climatological variables (including temperature and precipitation) which give us a reference point for comparing current weather against what’s considered “normal” for a given location and its climate. They also provide important information for a range of economic sectors, informing growers’ decisions on when to plant crops and what crops to plant, how electrical utilities can expect energy demand to vary by season, and planning construction projects.

How have temperatures changed over the past decade? Warming between our new normals period (1991-2020) and the previous one (1981-2010) was widespread across the U.S., with the exception of the northern Great Plains, which cooled slightly.

What do the U.S. Climate Normals tell us about climate change? Putting the words “normal” and “climate” together can seem like a foreign concept these days, as extreme weather events become more common in our warming world. The new normals show us that, even in the past decade, warming was significant in most places. With each decadal update of the climate normals, temperatures keep creeping up. It’s even more striking when you take a look at the bigger picture, comparing the newest normals to data from the beginning of the 20th century (1901-1930). The warming pattern due to climate change is almost everywhere, with 76% (183) of the 242 cities analyzed reporting an increase of 1℉ or more.

It’s time to pause and take stock. Rather than being caught like a frog in increasingly hot water, we must focus on reducing our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to mitigate the rapid pace of warming illustrated by each new installment in the climate normals. 

What’s to come from Climate Matters: May is typically the time of year that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reach their annual peak. This year we’ve already exceeded 420 parts per million (ppm) of CO2—the highest level in recorded history and a 50% increase since the pre-industrial era. Keep an eye out for our upcoming coverage of the annual peak in CO2.

How much has Central PA warmed? WTAJ Your Weather Authority has reported on continual warming in Central PA, especially within the past year. The region’s climate normals, updated by NOAA, increased like many other cities across the United States. It’s included in the 76% (183) of the 242 cities analyzed reporting an increase of 1℉ or more. The warming for our new normals period (1991-2020) is shocking compared the previous one (1981-2010) when temperatures were cooler.


 Annual normals for the contiguous United States were estimated using NOAA’s nClimGrid Monthly dataset. Anomalies are relative to the 20th century (1901-2000) average. The normal values have been estimated and may vary slightly from NOAA’s official calculations.

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