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NOAA map of July 2003 USA weather extremes.August 14, 2003 ó In much of the East, rainfall was unusually heavy and average monthly temperatures were generally cooler than average. Record and near-record heat affected a large part of the western United States in July, and below-average precipitation contributed to persistent or worsening drought conditions throughout much of the region, according to scientists at the NOAA Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

NOAA scientists report the average temperature for the contiguous United States in July (based on preliminary data) was 75.7 degrees F (24.3 degrees C), which was 1.4 degrees F (0.8 degrees C) above the 1895-2003 mean. It was the twelfth-warmest July since national records began in 1895.

Numerous daily and monthly all-time records were established across the West, as a dominant high pressure area persisted throughout the month. The monthly mean temperature in every western state—except California—was much warmer than average, and Idaho had its warmest July on record. In Phoenix, Las Vegas, Cheyenne, Wyo., and Grand Junction, Colo., July 2003 was the warmest month on record.

The Western warmth contrasted sharply with cooler-than-average temperatures in much of the East. Twelve states from Mississippi to Pennsylvania were significantly cooler than average. Upper-level winds in the atmosphere pushed unusually far south in the eastern United States in July, leading to generally cooler and wetter-than-average conditions. This continued a pattern that has persisted for much of the spring and summer.

Seventeen states east of the Mississippi were significantly wetter than average in July, and May-July was the wettest late spring-mid summer period in four states (Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Ohio). The same three-month period was the second wettest on record in four other states (Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia and Indiana).

While wetter-than-average conditions covered much of the East, the same ridge of high pressure that brought record heat to the West also resulted in below average precipitation in many states. Fourteen states west of the Mississippi were significantly drier than average for July. Four of those states (Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana) were much drier than average, and New Mexico had its driest July on record.

The heat and lack of precipitation occurred in many of the same states that have experienced drought for the past three to five years. At the end of July, 70 percent of the West was in moderate to extreme drought, based on a widely used measure of drought, the Palmer Drought Index. This was an increase of 11 percent since June and 21 percent since the end of May, continuing the reversal of a short-term trend toward improving conditions that had begun late last year. The most widespread drought on record occurred in July 1934 when moderate to extreme drought affected 97 percent of the West. The persistence of unusually warm and dry conditions over the last several years has created conditions that rival those experienced during the drought years of the 1930s and 1950s in parts of the West.

The global average temperature was second warmest on record, and a damaging heat wave affected much of Europe. The average global surface temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during July 2003 (based on preliminary data) was 0.9 degrees F (0.5 degrees C) above the 1880-2002 long-term mean, the second-warmest July since 1880 (the beginning of reliable instrumental records). The warmest July on record occurred in 1998. Since 1900, global surface temperatures have risen at a rate of 1.0 degrees F/century (0.6 degrees C/century), but the rate has increased to approximately three times the century-scale trend since 1976.

Land surface temperatures for July were the third warmest in the historical record. Much warmer than average temperatures were widespread across Europe, which was affected by a severe heat wave during the month. Daily high temperatures routinely exceeded 90 degrees F (32 degrees C), and at times 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), across many areas from France and Switzerland southeastward across the Mediterranean region.

NOAA Satellite and Information is the nation’s primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. It operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications such as fire detection, ozone monitoring and sea surface temperature measurements.

The agency also operates three data centers, which house global databases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics, and paleoclimatology.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
Climate of 2003 — July in Historical Perspective

NOAA Climatic Data Center

NOAA Drought Information Center

Media Contacts:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellite and Information, (301) 457-5005