With last week’s release of the fall update to the National Register of Big Trees, there has been a lot of talk around American Forests lately about setting and breaking records. But not all records are ones to celebrate.

Cow in Tennessee drought
A cow kicks up dust in Tennessee drought conditions. Credit: Clint Alley/Flickr

July made the news this year as the hottest month on record in the United States. Now, the entire year of 2012 is poised to follow its example and become the hottest year in recorded history. According to the latest “State of the Climate” report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), September marked the first time that above average temperatures have continued for 16 straight months. The first nine months of this year have already been the warmest on record, with 46 states recording temperatures among their 10 all-time warmest.

While people in many parts of the country are breathing sighs of relief as October ushers in cooler weather, at this point, the last three months of 2012 would have to be some of the coldest in recorded history to prevent the year from breaking the record. According to meteorologist Nick Wiltgen of weather.com, the chance of 2012 not finishing as the warmest year in recorded history is less than seven percent. Many factors shape weather patterns, but this year’s heat is not independent from the overall trends of increasing average temperatures, whose causes include increased greenhouse gases and whose symptoms include the increasing intense weather events we’ve all been experiencing — 2012’s U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) number is more than twice the average. This may come as no surprise to Americans — nearly 65 percent of the contiguous U.S. is experiencing drought.

NASA studies changing conditions in the Arctic
NASA studies changing conditions in the Arctic. Credit: NASA Goodard Space Flight Center/Flickr

The U.S. isn’t the only one sweating; global temperatures this year were also some of the hottest on record. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, August was the 135th month in a row with smaller than average global sea ice extent and the first time that it has ever dropped below four million square kilometers. The loss in sea ice since this time last year is around the size of Texas.

NOAA introduced the USCEI to help policymakers make informed decisions on matters that affect and are affected by climate. Let’s hope they’re listening to the numbers.