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It's already shaping up to be the hottest year on record globally, and it's certainly been a scorcher for the U.S. as well. The latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the contiguous U.S. had its 12th warmest summer on record and its ninth warmest year to date in the last 121 years.
Washington and Oregon even had their warmest summers ever as the Pacific Northwest battled record heat and Washington dealt with its largest fire in state history. Those two states, along with California and Nevada, recorded their warmest January to August, and are poised to see their hottest years ever, according to NOAA.
“I think it's likely that 2015 will set the record for the warmest year on record for WA State,” Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist for Washington, told Climate Central. "Even if the rest of the year were simply average temperature-wise, 2015 would surpass the current record-holder of 1934 by 0.5°F," she said, and with one of the strongest El Niños on record, it is very likely that temperatures will remain above normal for the rest of the year.
Alaska had its second-warmest January to August on record. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida all had "much above average" temperatures for January to August. The record warmth, coupled with record dryness has created conditions for what might yet be the worst wildfire season on record—with no sign of relief anytime soon.
As for precipitation, overall the U.S. has had its 24th wettest year to date, but extremes exist. The Central U.S. along with parts of the Northeast and Midwest had one of their soggiest summers ever, whereas, as of Sept. 1, 30 percent of the U.S. was in drought—up three percent since July.
The year-to-date precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 22.14 inches, 1.43 inches above average, and the 24th wettest on record. Above-average precipitation was observed across the central U.S., where eight states were much wetter than average. Oklahoma had its wettest January-August on record with a precipitation total 156 percent of average. Below-average precipitation was observed along both coasts. California, Connecticut and Oregon each had precipitation totals that were much below-average. California had its fifth driest year-to-date receiving less than half the average precipitation.
Extremes were common in the NOAA data. The agency uses the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) to track extremes in temperature, precipitation, land-falling tropical cyclones and drought for the contiguous U.S.
"The USCEI for the year-to-date was 35 percent above average and the 17th highest value on record," reports NOAA. "On the national-scale, extremes in warm maximum and minimum temperatures, one-day precipitation totals and days with precipitation were much above average."
Scientists have found that, as the Earth warms, extreme weather has increased, bringing more and more droughts, floods, heat waves and heavy downpours. Just yesterday, Japan was rocked by massive flooding that forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people. And extreme heat continues today in Southern California as near record-high demand on power grids triggered blackouts.
California's four-year drought the driest stretch on record, and heat totally off the charts (Via @EricHolthaus) pic.twitter.com/0HF76mCMK9 — UN Climate Action (@UNFCCC) September 10, 2015
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, New York City set a record on Tuesday for hottest temperature ever recorded on that day (97 degrees Fahrenheit), breaking the previous record of 93 degrees held since 1919. Some places around the U.S. are grappling with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal this week.
Temperature hits 97 degrees in New York City’s Central Park, breaking record set in 1919 http://t.co/itHqgv172I pic.twitter.com/4LIADvkVvC — NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) September 8, 2015
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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