The average temperature for the contiguous United States last month was 77.6 degrees, or 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average, making it the hottest month on record for the nation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

That heat contributed to a record-hot first seven months of the year and the warmest 12-month period the United States has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.

“Higher-than-average temperatures engulfed much of the contiguous U.S. during July, with the largest temperature departures from the 20th century average occurring across most of the Plains, the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard,” NCDC said. A total of 32 states had July temperatures among their 10 hottest and seven others had their second warmest July on record. Virginia had its warmest July ever with a statewide temperature 4 degrees above average.

January through March 2012 was the warmest first quarter since records were first kept in 1895, NCDC said earlier this year (see Daily GPI, April 10), and the trend is continuing, with the January-July period the warmest first seven months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 56.4 degrees was 4.3 degrees above the long-term average. “Most of the contiguous U.S. was record and near-record warm for the seven-month period, except the Pacific Northwest, which was near average,” NCDC said.

The 12-month period beginning in August 2011 was the warmest 12-month period on record, narrowly surpassing a record set just last month. “Except Washington, which was near average, every state across the contiguous U.S. had warmer-than-average temperatures for the period,” NCDC said.

July was also a relatively dry month. The nationally averaged precipitation total of 2.57 inches was 0.19 inch below average, NCDC said. “Near-record dry conditions were present for the middle of the nation, with the drought footprint expanding to cover nearly 63% of the Lower 48, according the U.S. Drought Monitor,” NCDC said.

As of August 4 there had been 982 cooling degree days (CDD) in the United States, according to NOAA data. That’s 33% more than the historic average, according to NOAA meteorologist Adam Allgood.

“So far, 2011 accumulated the most CDDs in the previous 10 years and 2012 has accumulated 12 more CDDs than 2011 this time last year,” Allgood told NGI.

But spotting a trend, at least in the short term, isn’t easy. There have been fewer than 1,300 CDD totals in four years since 2002 — most recently in 2009 — but there have been more than 1,400 in five other years, including 2010 and 2011.

Unusually warm temperatures dominated much of the country last winter, including the fourth-warmest January on record for the contiguous United States, according to (see Daily GPI, Feb. 13). Those relatively warm temperatures, combined with increased supply coming out of the nation’s unconventional plays, helped push working gas inventories to seasonal record highs.

Working natural gas inventories remain at historically high levels for this time of year, and at the end of October are expected to set a new record of 3,954 Bcf, the Energy Information Administration said this week (see Daily GPI, Aug. 8). While abundant supplies have kept prices relatively low, a hot summer and associated increases in demand for natural gas for power generation contributed to the increase in prices in July,” the agency said.

Andover, MA-based Weather Services International recently said it expects this summer to end with cooler-than-normal temperatures dominating the East, a trend that is expected to carry over through October, though high temperatures will keep their grip on the central United States (see Daily GPI, July 24).

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