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NOAA's state temperature ranking from Nov. 2001 through April 2002.May 16, 2002 — Periods of record to near-record warmth and drier than normal conditions in April led to worsening drought in many areas of the United States, while beneficial rains fell in drought-affected areas of the Northeast. (Click image for larger view of NOAA's state temperature ranking from Nov. 2001 through April 2002.)

Preliminary data indicate that the average temperature in the contiguous United States was the 9th warmest on record for the month of April, and the second warmest globally since records began in the late 1800s, according to NOAA scientists.

Although April began with cooler than normal temperatures across much of the U.S., record warmth affected many cities from the Plains to the East Coast during the middle of the month. Daily high temperatures more than 15 degrees F (8 C) above average during this period contributed to an average monthly temperature of 54.6 degrees F (12.6 C) in the contiguous U.S., 2.6 degrees F (1.4 C) above the 1895-2002 long-term mean (based on preliminary data), the 9th warmest April since national records began in 1895. April temperatures in Alaska were cooler than average, 2.1 degrees F (1.2 C) below the 1961-1990 mean. The data come from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

For the month as a whole, temperatures were much above average in many states from Arizona to Florida and along the eastern seaboard as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island. A record warm April occurred in North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico and three other states (Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island) had their 3rd warmest April. Above normal temperatures have persisted throughout a large part of the central and eastern U.S. since late last year, most notably in the Midwest and Northeast. The November-April 2001/2002 six-month period was the record warmest in 16 states from Iowa to New England.

The continued anomalous warmth coincided with below-normal precipitation in parts of the U.S. which led to worsening drought conditions for some of the most severely affected regions of the country. Although a series of storms brought much-needed rainfall to parts of the Northeast and some improvement in drought from northern Virginia to Maine, the persistence of severe to extreme drought required the continuation of drought emergencies in many cities along the northeastern seaboard. Drought severity at the end of April was the worst since the extreme drought of the mid-1960's in parts of the region.

Below to much-below average precipitation occurred across most southern-tier states in April. Conditions have steadily worsened throughout a large part of the Southwest following a winter of very low snowfall totals that left snowpack levels at less than 50% of average in much of the region. By month's end, extreme drought covered a large part of the West from Montana to New Mexico and Arizona. The past seven months have been the driest October through April on record in Colorado, and the excessively dry conditions have led to numerous wildfires and concern that the 2002 wildfire season may be extremely active.

Montana has experienced some of the most severe drought conditions in the nation. In parts of the state, the drought began more than four years ago and the persistence of below-average precipitation and warmer than normal temperatures throughout much of the period led to a level of drought severity worse than any recorded in more than a century. The conditions have made dry-land farming extremely difficult in parts of Montana and many other states in the western U.S. Conditions on more than half of the range and pasture lands in Montana, Colorado and Arizona were rated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in early May as poor to very poor with more than 75 percent of the range and pastures in New Mexico rated poor to very poor. The extended drought also led to numerous dust storms from Montana to Colorado, resulting in incidents of brownouts and loss of topsoil. However, soil conservation programs implemented since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930's have prevented the recurrence of the devastating soil losses that occurred during that period.

The average global temperature for land and ocean surfaces combined (based on preliminary data) was 1.0 degree F (0.6 C) above the 1880-2001 long-term mean, the second warmest April for the period of record which began in 1880 (the period of reliable instrumental records). The warmest April occurred only four years ago during the last El Niño episode. Warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures were observed throughout most of the equatorial Pacific during April, and a slow evolution toward a weak to moderate El Niño episode is likely to continue throughout the remainder of 2002. (See NOAA news release at

For the global ocean surface as a whole, the average temperature was 0.8 degrees F (0.4 C) above the long-term mean, the 2nd warmest April since 1880. The land surface global temperature was 3rd warmest, 0.5 degrees F (0.3 C) less than in 1998 and slightly less than the average April temperature in 2000.

Two of the past four months (January and March) were the warmest such months on record, and for the year-to-date four-month period (January-April), the combined land and ocean global temperature was 1.3 degrees F (0.7 C) above average, slightly less than the record warm four-month period of 1998. Global temperatures have increased at an average rate of approximately 1 degree F (0.6 C) per century since 1900, but the rate of warming during the past 25 years is almost three times higher.

NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NOAA Satellite and Data Service) is the nation's primary source of space-based meteorological information and climate data. In addition to search and rescue, NOAA's environmental satellites are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, and other environmental applications such as volcanic eruptions, ozone monitoring, sea surface temperature measurements and wild fire detection. NOAA Satellite and Data Service also operates three data centers, which house global data bases in climatology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics, and paleoclimatology.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Climate of 2002—April in Historical Perspective

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center

NOAA's Drought Information Center

Media Contact:
Patricia Viets, NOAA Satellite and Data Service, (301) 457-5005