The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 13, 2012

Record heat, drought point to longer-term climate issues



The well was dry. The water table in the area had sunk to new lows, and like other homeowners in Parr, Ind., they were without water. When they sought out a well-driller to try to find water, they found that drillers across the state were booked for a week.

Six of 35 observation wells in the state have hit historic lows, said Mark Basch, chief of the state water rights department.

The Lakins, with two kids, have gone almost two weeks without water.

"I think you could say it's been a trying summer," she said. "Everybody was looking for water."

In 1895, the first year of such records for the nation, the average July temperature in the contiguous states was 72.1 degrees.

Since then, average temperatures have been rising, if slowly, according to U.S. records, climbing at the rate of 1.24 degrees per century.

This year, average temperatures spiked to 77.6 — even above the long-term trends, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week.

At the same time that temperatures have spiked, setting records in places as far-flung as Lansing, Mich., and Greenville, S.C., the country has been hit with a spreading drought. In early August, 62 percent of the contiguous United States was under moderate to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The heat and drought feed on each other, worsening conditions, scientists said. When the ground is wet, the water absorbs the sun's heat and expends it in evaporation; when the earth is dry in a drought, the ground simply warms up.

The rising temperatures and spreading drought this year are consistent with what can be expected with the warming of the climate, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with NOAA.

"Any given year in the future could be above or below that rising trend," Crouch said. "But if the current trend continues, the chances of years like this become greater."

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