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In case you're curious as to just what climate change is going to look like when it really gets cranked up in a few years, here's a sneak preview:

These two maps are from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. This first one shows the location of each of the 129 daily low temperature records set or tied in the contiguous U.S. in January (the blank circles indicate where a previous record was tied; the circles with an 'X' inside are where a record was broken):

Record low temperatures - January 2012
Record low temperatures - January 2012
Image courtesy National Climatic Data Center
...and this one shows the location of each of the 3,078 daily high temperature records set or tied in the contiguous U.S. in January:
Record high temperatures - January 2012
Record high temperatures - January 2012
Image courtesy National Climatic Data Center
There are a few small locations lacking in dots, as you can see--near the Great Salt Lake, southeastern Colorado, northern Illinois, upstate New York, much of Maine--but for the most part, the nation was pretty well saturated with a record number of record high temperatures in January. In fact, some areas were over-saturated: that dark shading in the upper Midwest is where records were so frequent and so many that they're piled one atop another, a thick mound of bizarre, record-breaking midwinter heat.

3,078 highs, 129 lows. That's lopsided. That's startling. And that's what climate change looks like.

Now, if you're imagining this will all go away now that February's here, and that flakes will fall and winds will blow and all the little kiddies can go back to making snow angels on the ground, imagine again. Here's what we're told we can expect for temps this month:

Record high temperatures - January 2012
One-month temperature probability outlook - February 2012
Image courtesy Climate Prediction Center
Now, of course a few warm months aren't by themselves "evidence" of anything. But we've been seeing this pattern consistently for a long time now, and, despite what you may have read in the Wall Street Journal, it is evidence of a change in the atmosphere. 2011 was the 35th consecutive year during which global temperatures have been above the long-term average, and, as this chart shows, the warmest year on record with a La Niña present.
Global annual temperature anomalies 1950 - 2011
Global annual temperature anomalies 1950 - 2011
Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
And that, too, is what climate change looks like.

Want to see more? How about the following graphic? It shows the ratio of record daily highs to record daily lows at 1,800 or so weather stations in the 48 contiguous United States from 1950 through 2009. Each vertical bar represents the proportion of record highs (red) to record lows (blue) for each decade. Over the last 30 years, record highs have increasingly predominated, with the ratio now about two-to-one for the lower 48 states.

Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.

©UCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research). Graphic by Mike Shibao.
Yup. That's what climate change looks like.

Remember last year's killer drought in Texas and elsewhere? It's disappeared from the headlines, but not from the planet. Below is the most recent seasonal drought outlook for the three-month period from mid-January through the end of April:

U.S. seasonal drought outlook for the period from January 19 - April 30, 2012
Disturbing, yes? And while some go on debating the causes of a rapidly changing climate as if it's an abstract or academic/political thing only, others have been forced to meet the issue head-on in their day-to-day lives. Texas may have to shut down much of its rice production this year because of the lack of rain. Some Texas towns are having to truck in water from outside because their wells have run dry. And the drought doesn't stop at the border; northern Mexico is facing one of its most severe droughts on record, and if you think that doesn't affect us north of the border, you're wrong. For instance: much of the marijuana crop has been destroyed. That's pushing many in the drug trade there to produce the more lucrative—and less prone to drought—methamphetamine. That, in turn, means higher drug prices, more violent crime, and more social ills for Americans.

That's what climate change looks like.

How about yet another? This map from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center shows the snow depth around the contiguous United States (and southern Canada) as of yesterday. You'll note an alarming lack of snow through the upper Great Plains and across the border. Good news: there shouldn't be any large-scale flooding of the Missouri and/or Mississippi rivers this year, thanks to the absence of snow in the areas that feed them. Bad news: soil moisture in much of the nation's high-producing agricultural regions is going to be lacking unless a lot of snow gets dumped these last several weeks of winter, and/or some good soaking rains pass through the area come spring. The bottom line, though, is this: it's the first few days of February, a time usuallyconsidered to be winter, and there's just not much snow to be found.

Snow depth - February 1, 2012

Snow depth - February 1, 2012
Image courtesy National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center
Here's yet another glimpse into the near future of climate change in case you missed it just this week. In recognition of the reality of warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons, the US Department of Agriculture has shifted its hardiness zone boundaries by an average of one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer throughout most of the U.S. That may seem like a small thing, but it's a huge difference for everyone from home gardeners to Big Agriculture. On the plus side, it means certain crops can now be safely grown in places farther north than ever before. But offsetting that on the downside, it means that certain other crops can't be grown as far south as they used to be (which is probably secondary to the fact that large swaths of borderline arable land in the U.S. Southwest are predicted to become useless-for-agriculture desert anyway). All this also means expensive disruptions to the agricultural status quo. More importantly, this will be far from the last time those hardiness zones need to be updated to reflect contemporary reality.
USDA plant hardiness zone map changes 1990 - 2012

USDA plant hardiness zone map changes 1990 - 2012
Image courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture
Any one or two of these alone would be evidence of nothing, really. But all of these—and many, many, more—are increasingly looked upon by climate scientists as an aggregate sign of things to come.

The reality: it's warmer than it used to be.

The reality: it's going to get warmer still.

The reality: that's going to cause a lot of problems.

And that's what climate change looks like.

1) Thanks for the great response and even better comments, guys. I appreciate that my diary was appreciated. :)

2) The Climate Prediction Center just updated the seasonal drought outlook (valid through the end of April). Compare it to the image above and you'll see that things have gotten mostly worse:

U.S. seasonal drought outlook for the period from February 2 - April 30, 2012

Originally posted to Neapolitan on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 06:56 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks and SciTech.

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