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NOAA image of October 2003 monthly weather extreme records.Nov. 17, 2003 — Many western states had record or near-record warmth in October, while temperatures in the eastern third of the country were near average or cooler than average. It all added up to a warmer than average October for the United States, according to scientists at the NOAA Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Anomalously warm temperatures also occurred in many other areas of the world, and the average global temperature was the warmest on record for October. (Click NOAA image for larger view of October 2003 monthly weather extreme records. Please credit “NOAA.”)

NOAA scientists report that the average temperature for the contiguous United States in October (based on preliminary data) was 57.0 degrees F (13.9 degrees C), which was 2.3 degrees F (1.3 degrees C) above the 1895-2003 mean. The October mean temperature in Nevada and California was the warmest on record, and ten other western states were much warmer than average. The average October temperature in Alaska was also much warmer than average, 6.4 degrees F (3.6 degrees C) above the 1971-2000 mean. Conversely, significantly cooler-than-average temperatures occurred in eight Midwestern and eastern states from Indiana to Massachusetts.

Drier-than-average conditions affected many states from the West Coast to the central United States and parts of the Southeast. The only states with significantly wetter-than-average conditions were Washington and twelve states along the eastern seaboard. The cooler and wetter-than-average conditions in the East, along with warmer and drier-than-average conditions from the central to the western United States are part of a pattern that has persisted for many months. The most recent six-month period (May-October) was the wettest on record in the Northeast and second wettest in the Southeast and Central regions, while five regions from the East North Central to the West were drier or much drier than average.

The combination of above average-temperatures and below-average precipitation led to moderate to extreme drought in 42 percent of the contiguous United States at the end of October based on the Palmer Drought Index, a widely used measure of drought. Drought conditions have persisted for much of the past four to five years in parts of the West. Impacts of the cumulative effects of warm and dry conditions include below average reservoir levels, poor range and pasture conditions, tree die-off in many forested regions and conditions favorable for wildfire development.

Although fewer acres have been consumed by wildfire in 2003 than in the preceding year, dry conditions in southern California contributed to some of the most costly and deadly wildfires ever experienced with more than 475,000 acres burned in late October, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The average global surface temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during October 2003 (based on preliminary data) was 1.2 degrees F (0.7 degrees C) above the 1880-2002 long-term mean and was the warmest October since the beginning of reliable instrumental records in 1880. The January-October year-to-date temperature was the third warmest, slightly cooler than 1998 and 2002.

October monthly temperatures were more than 4 degrees F (2.2 degrees C) above average across much of Canada, Alaska and the western United States and above-average temperatures also covered large parts of Asia and Africa. The most widespread areas of cooler than average temperatures were in Europe and southern Australia. The global ocean surface temperature was warmest on record, and temperatures in much of the equatorial Pacific were above the 1971-2000 average. Evolving conditions in the equatorial Pacific point toward a possible return of weak El Niño conditions by the end of November, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

The NOAA Environmental Satellites, Data and Information Service 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 NOAA Environmental Satellites, Data and Information 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.

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 — October in Historical Perspective

NOAA Climatic Data Center

Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellites and Information Service, (301) 457-5005