WASHINGTON – A vast swath of the United States was warmer than usual this year, leading to severe drought conditions and wildfires in the West and Southeast.
Texas, the Lone Star state, stood alone, the only one to record below average temperatures.
Preliminary data released Thursday by federal scientists predict the annual average temperature for 2007 across the contiguous United States at near 54.3 degrees Fahrenheit — making the year the eighth warmest since records were first kept in 1895.
Worldwide, the average temperature for the year, expected to be near 58 degrees Fahrenheit, is on pace to be the fifth warmest ever, said the report by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.
"Within the last 30 years, the rate of warming is about three times greater than the rate of warming since 1900," said Jay Lawrimore, chief of the climate monitoring branch at the center. "The annual temperatures continue to be either near-record or at record levels year in and year out."
In the United States, the months of March and August were the second warmest in more than 100 years. Six states — Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida — had the warmest August month on record.
In 113 years of record keeping, all but four states — Texas, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — experienced either above average or significantly above average temperatures from January through November.
Wyoming had its second warmest year; Idaho and Utah had the fifth-warmest years on record.
North Carolina had the driest year so far. From midsummer into December, more than three-quarters of the Southeast was in drought, the report said.
The problem in Texas, Lawrimore said, was too much rain that led to flooding and the wettest summer on record. The cloudy and rainy weather for much of the year contributed to the cooler temperatures for the state, he said.
Globally, seven of the eighth warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997, said the report.
"When you see these numbers, it's screaming out at you, 'This is global warming,'" said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in Canada. "It's the beginning and it's unequivocal."
Weaver said previous warm weather records probably would have been broken this year were it not for some cooling toward the end of the year because of La Nina — a cooling of the mid-Pacific equatorial region.
At a U.N. climate conference on Bali this week, delegates from nearly 190 nations, including the United States, have been trying to hammer out a roadmap for negotiations for a new global warming pact that would take effect in 2012 after the current one expires.
Former vice president and Nobel laureate Al Gore told delegates Thursday that the United States was "principally responsible" for blocking progress toward an agreement on launching negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Gore won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change.
As the world warms, scientists fear an increase in disease, killer weather and the extinction of vast numbers of species.
Globally, the greatest warming took place in high-altitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the NOAA report said.
The impact of that can be seen in the large reductions in Arctic sea ice, which is melting so rapidly that some scientists have predicted it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.
The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in September estimated the surface area of the Arctic sea ice nearly 23 percent below the previous record set in 2005.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration will update its data in early January to reflect the last few weeks of December.