May Temperatures, Economic Implications

From NOAA:

The United States reported its warmest spring since records began in 1895,…

… with 31 states in the eastern two-thirds of the country observing record warmth. The national temperature was 2.9°C (5.2°F) above its long-term average, surpassing the previous record by 1.1°C (2.0°F).

Here’s the May Global Mean Surface Temperature Anomaly:

Figure from NOAA, State of the Climate Global Analysis, May 2012.Note in particular the land temperatures.

Well, not to panic. We can easily adjust to the temperature changes. Just change what we’re planting and where. And crank up the air conditioning. Or will it be so easy? From WSJ:

A year after historic flooding brought the Mississippi River up to record levels, the severe drought hitting the central U.S. has caused water levels along parts of the waterway to plummet, disrupting barge traffic from Cairo, Ill., to Natchez, Miss.

Barge operators have sharply reduced their loads to get through tightening river passages. They say major rain is needed soon or they would have to reduce commerce even more, causing shipment delays and driving up transportation costs. With forecasts showing little prospect of significant rain, hydrologists see no relief in sight for the giant inland waterway that also includes the Ohio River.

Some river ports have been forced to close temporarily or shut down parts of their operations because of the low water levels. At the port of Rosedale in the Mississippi Delta, port director Robert Maxwell Jr. said water levels are about 50 feet below what they were last year, when flooding shut down the port. If the water falls any lower, there was a “high likelihood” he would have to close, he said. One of the port’s public loading docks is inoperable, with equipment normally in the water now hanging the air. The Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to come this week to dredge, where heavy equipment is used to dig out sediment from waterways to make them passable for shipping.

“This is absolutely not normal,” Mr. Maxwell said.

Crops are also being hit hard [1].

Here is a meta-analysis of the scientific consensus on the reasons why global climate change is happening.

Forecast temperatures for Madison, WI are for 99 degrees tomorrow. And the day after. Which wouldn’t be so strange except for the many other days we’ve been in that range over the past months.

Update, 15/7, 12:27pm: Scary reading, for a Californian in Wisconsin, from Wisconsin State Journal,” Ask the Weather Guys: How does our recent heat wave stack up against past events?”:

Q: How does our recent heat wave stack up against past events?

A: Now that the latest heat wave has finally broken (though perhaps not for long) it is of interest to consider how it rates alongside other memorable heat waves. First of all, each day from July 4-6, 2012, Madison’s high temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with the 104 degrees on July 5 ranking as third highest of all time.

Moreover, we set record high temperatures for five consecutive days from July 2-6. The last time a three-day streak of temperatures over 100 F occurred here was July 1936. During that heat wave, Madison set its all-time high temperature record of 107 degrees (on July 13, 1936) while the state record of 114 degrees was set that day at Wisconsin Dells. During that July 1936 heat wave, 14 states set their all-time high temperature records — incredible!

From June 27-July 9 we had 12 of 13 days with a high temperature of 90 degrees or greater, with an embedded streak of 10 days in a row that ended on July 6 (ranking it third all-time after a 15-day streak in July 1901 and a 13-day streak in July 1936). As of July 9, we have had 20 days with a high temperature at or over 90 degrees this year. By the time you read this article, we may have added two more days to that total and will be poised to add a third. The record year for such days was 1988 when 90 degrees was reached 35 times — well beyond the average of 13. By July 9, 1988, we had had only 13 such days so we are well ahead of the pace for 90 degrees days set in that record year.

And from The Weather Channel, “New Data: 2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl “:

In a monthly report to be released Monday, the National Climatic Data Center is expected to announce that this year’s drought now ranks among the ten largest drought areas in the past century.

Preliminary data computed from the Palmer Drought Severity Index shows that 54.6 percent of the contiguous 48 states was in drought at the end of June, the highest percentage since December 1956, and the sixth-highest peak percentage on record.

Monday’s State of the Climate drought report from NCDC is expected to show that since 1895, only the extraordinary droughts of the 1930s and 1950s have covered more land area than the current drought.

And by a slight margin, the current drought actually covers more area than the famous 1936 drought, though other droughts in the Dust Bowl years – particularly the extreme drought of 1934 – still rank higher.

However, when excluding areas in “moderate” drought, the historical rankings change a bit. Some historical droughts were extremely intense, but more focused on specific regions rather than sprawling across large swaths of the country.

For example, infamous droughts in 1988, 2000, and 2002 each included over 35% of the country in the “severe” to “extreme” drought categories on the Palmer drought scale. By comparison, severe to extreme drought covers 32.7% in June 2012.

In short, the overall 2012 drought now covers more territory than any drought since the 1950s; but the more severe drought categories don’t cover quite as much land now as did the droughts of 1988 and the early 2000s.

That being said, the 2012 drought still ranks as the 10th-largest severe drought since 1895, even by that stricter definition.

And with July typically being the hottest month of the year, the drought may yet worsen. Note that among the top ten largest “severe” droughts on record, five of them peaked in the months of July and August.

Impact on grains futures are obvious. Here is a picture of CBOT Corn (July 2012) futures, as of 7/13.

Figure from

This post originally appeared at Econbrowser and is posted with permission.