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A Vivid View of Extreme Weather: Temperature Records in the U.S. in 2021


Where All-Time Temperature Records Were Set in 2021





June

heat wave

Minneapolis

Salt

Lake City

San

Francisco

February

cold snap

Los Angeles

Albuquerque

Little Rock

All-time record

broken by

10° Fahrenheit

New Orleans

San Antonio

June

heat wave

Minneapolis

Sioux Falls

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

Salt

Lake City

Des Moines

San

Francisco

Washington

Indianapolis

Kansas City

February

cold snap

Albuquerque

Los Angeles

Little Rock

Oklahoma

City

Birmingham

Charleston

All-time record

broken by

10° Fahrenheit

Jacksonville

New Orleans

San Antonio

June

heat wave

February

cold snap

All-time record broken by

10° Fahrenheit

June

heat wave

February

cold snap

All-time record broken by

10° Fahrenheit

All-time record broken by

10° Fahrenheit

June

heat wave

Minneapolis

San

Francisco

Los Angeles

February

cold snap

New Orleans


Temperatures in the United States last year set more all-time heat and cold records than any other year since 1994, according to a New York Times analysis of Global Historical Climatology Network data.

Heat waves made up most of these records. All-time heat records were set last year at 8.3 percent of all weather stations across the nation, more than in any year since at least 1948, when weather observations were first digitally recorded by the U.S. government.

The world has been warming by almost two-tenths of a degree per decade. Extreme-temperature events can often demonstrate the most visible effects of climate change.

“We do not live in a stable climate now,” said Robert Rohde, the lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, an independent organization focused on environmental data science. “We will expect to see more extremes and more all-time records being set.”

The brutal arctic outburst that caused Texas’ power grid to fail and the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last June account for many of the new records.

During the winter storm, on Feb. 17, the temperature dropped to minus 5.98 degrees in Jacksonville, Texas, far below its normal February low of about 40 degrees. State officials in Texas said that 246 people died in the storm.

In Salem, Ore., the temperature spiked to 116.96 degrees on June 28. The normal high there in June is around 74 degrees. The National Weather Service has attributed at least 110 deaths to the extreme heat.


Percentage of U.S. Weather Stations That Broke All-Time Temperature Records

All-time temperature records were set in 2021 at 10.6 percent of all U.S. stations.

Note: The number of active weather stations varies by year.

The Times analyzed temperature data from more than 7,800 weather stations across the United States. Locations without at least 30 years of weather data were ignored, though most stations have recorded temperature for at least 65 years.

All-time records have been set somewhere in the country every year since at least 1970, but 2021 stands alone when compared with recent years, a Times analysis found.

Heat waves in 2002 and 2012 brought unprecedented temperatures to hundreds of cities and towns. Like 2021, 2011 broke numerous cold and heat records. But last year’s extreme temperatures were spread across large areas of the country and surpassed even more records.







June

heat wave

February

cold snap













January

cold snap







August

heat wave



















June-July

heat wave



















June and July

heat waves







February

cold snap

July

heat wave













January

cold snap













August

heat wave













July

heat wave



















July

heat wave


Numerous records set in 2021 were also broken by double digits.

To explain these extremes, Dr. Rohde made a comparison with world records in the 100-meter dash. Runners typically break world records by hundredths of a second.

Among the new temperature records, Dr. Rohde said, “it’s like someone came in and seemed to be running an entirely different race because they just blew past everything we’ve come to expect.”


All-Time Temperature Records Set by the Largest Margins in 2021

Margin is the difference between the 2021 record and the previous record.

Place

Temp.

Margin

Previous record year

Franklin, Neb.

-27.94

11.88

2016

Mineola, Texas

-7.96

10.98

2018

Taylor, Neb.

-31.00

10.08

2016

Portland, Ore.

116.06

9.00

1981

Salem, Ore.

116.96

9.00

1981

Silverton, Ore.

113.00

9.00

1981

Richardson, Texas

-0.04

9.00

2011

Tacoma, Wash.

105.08

8.10

1955

Troutdale, Ore.

116.06

8.10

1977

Forks, Wash.

109.94

7.92

1981


Note: Temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.

New marks were also set by breaking records that have stood for decades. Bottineau, N.D., set a new minimum temperature record of minus 50.98 Fahrenheit, eclipsing tens of thousands of daily observations since 1893.


Oldest All-Time Temperature Records Broken in 2021

Place

Temp.

Margin

Previous record year

Bottineau, N.D.

-50.98

0.90

1893

Arlington, Texas

0.76

3.78

1894

Vernonia, Ore.

111.02

3.96

1899

Jacksonville, Texas

-5.98

0.90

1899

Wallace, Kan.

-25.06

1.08

1905

El Reno, Okla.

-16.06

1.08

1905

Superior, Neb.

-32.98

1.98

1905

Decatur, Texas

-7.06

7.02

1905

Osceola, Neb.

-31.00

1.08

1912

Prescott, Ark.

-9.04

1.98

1918


Note: Temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.

According to experts, climate change has pushed the extremes of temperature ranges around the world.

“What were hot days in the past are becoming more common,” Dr. Rohde said. “What were very, very hot days in the past are now two or three times more common than they used to be.”

Methodology

Data in the United States was obtained from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN), an integrated database maintained by NOAA that contains daily climate summaries from land surface stations. The data was processed and analyzed with BigQuery.

The GHCN daily dataset acts as the official weather record of the United States, and it has been validated for spatial and temporal consistency across measurements. Daily observations that failed any quality checks were excluded, such as measurements that far exceed the lowest or highest temperatures ever recorded on earth.

A historical record is defined as the hottest or coldest temperature ever recorded up to that date. Only the hottest or coldest record for a particular year is compared. Other records in the same year, like, for example, during an extended heat wave, are excluded.

For every historical record, only stations that have collected a minimum of 30 years of data are used. Further, each station included in our analysis is required to have collected data for a minimum of half of its life span.

To compute historical records for cities, stations were aggregated to incorporated places as defined by the U.S. Geological Survey. Within each area, data across stations is treated as a unified measurement for calculating historical records. Records may differ slightly from other aggregated sources based on the specific regions and stations considered.

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