South Carolina closed out 2017 and began 2018 on a very cold note. Recent days have brought warming relief. And though winter is sure to return in the coming weeks and months, the state can look ahead to days when temperatures will top 100.
If 2017 is an indicator, a lot of heat can be expected in this new year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, South Carolina was among five states that recorded their hottest year ever in 2017. The others are Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and New Mexico.
The weather agency said 2017 was the third hottest year in U.S. records for the lower 48 states with an annual temperature of 54.6 degrees — 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. Only 2012 and 2016 were warmer. The five warmest years for the lower 48 have all happened since 2006.
This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above-average temperatures for the year. Temperature records go back to 1895.
The temperature tallies are part of NOAA’s annual report presented earlier this week to the American Meteorological Society at its annual conference in Austin, Texas.
According to Associated Press reporting, the primary focus of the report is the number of natural disasters that hit the country last year. With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.
The U.S. had 16 disasters in 2017 with damage exceeding a billion dollars, according to the NOAA. That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total far exceeded the previous record of $215 billion in 2005. Costs are adjusted for inflation and NOAA keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters going back to 1980.
Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history hit last year.
Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding in Texas, cost $125 billion, second only to 2005's Katrina, while Maria's damage in Puerto Rico cost $90 billion, ranking third, NOAA said. Irma was $50 billion, mainly in Florida, for the fifth most expensive hurricane.
Western wildfires racked up $18 billion in damage, triple the U.S. wildfire record.
California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina all had more than $1 billion in damage from weather disasters.
With the U.S. average being six billion-dollar weather disasters a year, the increase is pronounced. What’s the cause? Global warming?
"While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, (many scientific studies) show that some of today's extremes have climate change fingerprints on them," said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, in the AP report.
And Deke Arndt, NOAA's climate monitoring chief, said the increase in billion-dollar weather disasters is likely a combination of more flooding, heat and storm surge from climate change along with other non-climate changes, such as where buildings are put, where people move and how valuable their property is.
The latter should not be underestimated in the cost tally.
As Susan Cutter, director of the University of South Carolina's Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, said in AP’s report: “Perhaps it is time to mandate urban development in a more resilient and sustainable manner given the increasing frequency of weather extremes, especially along the nation's coasts.”