(CN) – Alaska experienced its warmest year on record in 2019, while months of flooding and severe storms in the northern and central Great Plains states spurred record precipitation levels according to federal climatologists.
The average temperature in the contiguous U.S. for 2019 was 52.7 degrees – 0.7 degrees above the 20th century average – according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report. While the 2019 average ranks as the coolest since 2014, it is still within the warmest third of rankings in the 125 years of records.
Areas in the U.S. West, South and Southeast, Ohio Valley, mid-Atlantic, and Northeast experienced above-average or much-above-average temperatures in 2019, the report said. Parts of North Carolina and Georgia recorded temperatures in 2019 that are the highest ever on record. Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia each recorded their second warmest year on record.
But below-average temperatures, particularly in the daytime, were observed across the northern Plains.
Alaska meanwhile continued a warming trend that has seen four of the last six years rank as the warmest on record. The Last Frontier recorded an average temperature of 32 degrees in 2019, 6 degrees above its long-term average despite a seasonable December.
Alaskan cities including Anchorage, Northway, McGrath, Kodiak and Cold Bay experienced their warmest year on record. In July, Anchorage recorded 90 degrees for the first time ever.
A warming ocean contributed to near-record and record-warm temperatures across the Hawaiian Islands in 2019. The cities of Kahului on Maui and Lihue, located on Kauai, experienced record warm temperatures while the city of Honolulu tied with 1995 for its warmest year on record.
It also rained and snowed a lot across the United States. Total rainfall for the contiguous U.S. was 34.78 inches last year, or 4.84 inches above average – the second wettest year on record and only 0.18 inch behind 1973, the record holder.
The northern Plains, portions of the central Plains and the Great Lakes area experienced record levels of precipitation in 2019. But parts of Washington state, southern Texas and the Gulf of Mexico coast experienced severe drought last year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report.
California became drought free in March for the first time since December 2011, the report found.
The NOAA report noted 14 climate and weather-related disasters with losses over $1 billion occurred in 2019. Total U.S. economic losses in 2019 swelled above $45 billion, with about half stemming from damage related to river flooding in Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.
A “bomb cyclone” in March along with heavy flooding in July contributed to the damage to U.S. infrastructure and crops.
Over the last decade, damage from 119 climate or weather events exceeded $800 billion. The U.S. experienced more than double the number of “billion-dollar disasters” in the 2010s than in the 2000s, according to the report.
More than 1,500 tornadoes touched down across the contiguous U.S. in 2019, with 77 alone on May 27 in counties from Colorado to Ohio. But there were no EF5-scale tornadoes reported in 2019.
Hurricane Barry brought flash flooding to Louisiana and Arkansas in July, while monster Hurricane Dorian slammed the East Coast in September after raking the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm with wind speeds of over 185 miles per hour. Dorian tied the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 as the strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record.
The NOAA report notes that the 2019 hurricane season was above normal in terms of number of storms and “accumulated cyclone energy,” though only eight of the year’s 18 storms lasted more than 72 hours.
Another highlight from the 2019 hurricane season: Hurricane Lorenzo became the farthest east Category 5 storm recorded history.
In California, while the total number of fires and acres burned was down compared to previous years, the Kincade Fire in Northern California and several wildfires in the south state burned through tens of thousands of acres and destroyed thousands of structures.
U.S. wildfire activity in 2019 was below average with under 5 million acres consumed, with the sixth lowest area consumed and the second fewest number of fires in the last 20 years.