Editorial: Rappahannock exceptionalism

Despite what you may have felt, last month was not the hottest July in the county’s history, according to local residents who track the weather.

But for the country as a whole, according to federal scientists, July was the hottest month ever recorded in the contiguous United States. And it was also the warmest July on record for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

These are among the very latest statistics from the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These temperature statistics go back more than a century to 1895.

The average temperature for the “Lower 48” last month was 77.6 degrees, which breaks the old record by two-tenths of a degree. That old record was from July 1936, in the midst of the infamous Dust Bowl.

Last month also was 3.3 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average for July.

Here’s another record: The first seven months of 2012 were the warmest ever for the nation. And August 2011 through July this year was the warmest 12-month period on record.

The largest temperature departures from average occurred across most of the Central Plains, the Midwest, and along the Eastern Seaboard. Thirty-two states had July temperatures among their 10 warmest.

The excessive heat, combined with drier-than-average conditions across the Central Plains and Midwest during July, exacerbated wildfires and drought conditions throughout much of the United States. The warm and dry conditions contributed to ideal wildfire conditions and more than 2 million acres burned nationwide during July due to wildfires.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), at the end of July, 62.9 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought. This is an increase of about 7 percent since the end of June. The maximum value of 63.9 percent of the country in moderate or extreme drought reached on July 24 is a record in the 13-year history of the Drought Monitor.

The question is how long will Rappahannock’s microclimate stay immune to these dire conditions?

Walter Nicklin