By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
(USA Today) - It won't be a news flash for the 250 million sweltering Americans east of the Rockies, but the first half of the year has been the USA's warmest on record, federal climate scientists announced Monday.
Twenty-eight states and more than 100 cities have posted their warmest first six months on record, based on national weather data that go back to 1895, according to the report from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.
For instance, Chicago is almost 7 degrees warmer than average this year; the Windy City had eight 80-degree days in March and five days in the 90s in May.
New York City, where temperatures are about 4 degrees above average, is seeing its warmest year since records began there a few years after the Civil War ended.
The national temperature this year was 52.9 degrees, which is 4.5 degrees above average and 1.2 degrees above the next-warmest year, which was 2006, the climate report notes.
From January to June, a whopping 22,356 daily record high temperatures have been set across the USA, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton. This compares with 2,448 daily record lows during that time, he reports.
The jet stream - the river of air far above the Earth's surface that steers storms and weather - has persistently stayed far north of its typical location since December, says NCDC climate scientist Jake Crouch.
This has contributed to the fourth-warmest winter and warmest spring on record, he says.
The jet stream's unusual position has not only kept temperatures warm, it's also kept things dry: "It's keeping most of the Lower 48 drier than normal," Crouch says.
Through June, 56% of the country was in a drought, the highest percentage this century, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought.
Part or all of 49 of the 50 U.S. states were either in a drought or "abnormally dry," Maine being the one outlier.
"It's been bad news for farmers," Crouch says.
The dryness is beginning to take a significant toll on some of the USA's crops, pastures, and rangelands: 43% of the nation's pastures and rangelands are in "poor" or "very poor" condition, according to the monitor.
Additionally, almost 2.6 million acres has been charred in wildfires this year, the National Interagency Fire Center reports, including deadly and devastating blazes in Colorado.
After a slow start to the year, the recent fire activity is pushing the number of acres burned close to normal.
The climate center will release its global temperature report for January-June next week. Through May, the Earth saw its 11th-warmest year on record.