The first half of 2012 was the warmest start to any year going back to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center, and drought now covers more than half the contiguous 48 U.S. states.
The national temperature in the 48 contiguous states was 52.9 Fahrenheit (11.6 Celsius) from January to June or 4.5 degrees above average, according to the Climatic Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The 12 months from July 2011 to June were also the warmest on record.
“Every state across the contiguous U.S. has warmer-than-average temperatures for the period, except Washington, which was near normal,” according to the Climatic Center’s monthly state of the climate report.
Above-average temperatures across the U.S., as well as increased production, contributed to natural gas prices falling to a 10-year intraday low of $1.902 per billion British thermal units on April 19 because less of the fuel was needed to heat homes this past winter.
The higher temperatures during the summer months helped gas prices by boosting electricity demand as people turned on air conditioners, particularly in the large East Coast cities and Chicago.
Natural gas for August delivery gained 10.7 cents, or 3.9 percent, to settle at $2.883 per million Btu on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Gas-fired power plants produced the same amount of electricity in April as coal-fired plants, with both generating 32 percent, according to the Energy Department.
The average temperature in the 48 contiguous states was 56 degrees from July 2011 to June, surpassing the previous record set from June 2011 to May 2012 by 0.05 degree.
Since March, each 12-month period has set a record for being the warmest in the 48 states.
The average June temperature in the 48 states was 71.2 degrees, or 2 degrees above the 20th-century average. During June, 170 all-time high temperatures were set or tied and 3,282 daily records were set or tied in the U.S. as a whole.
In addition to the heat, 56 percent of the 48 contiguous states are now affected by drought, which is the largest percentage in the 12 years that the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska, has kept track.
The 48 states had the 10th-driest June with a national average of 2.27 inches (5.8 centimeters) of rain, 0.62 inch below the average.
Wyoming had its driest June on record, receiving 0.45 inch, and 11 states from Nevada to Kentucky ranked in their top 10 driest, according to the center. Soil moisture in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky ranks in the 10th percentile among all years since 1895.
The hot, dry conditions have left corn in its worst condition since 1988, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The U.S. is the largest producer of the crop.