Nightly News   |  January 08, 2013

2012: the hottest year on record

Last year was one for the history books, as a long-term warming trend brought two record highs for each record low between 2000 and 2010. And even more concerning, in the past year there were five record highs for each low recorded. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> our climate is in the news tonight as well, the big insurance giant, the company called munich ree says a natural disasters caused $160 billion around the world in 2012 . sandy is still costing, in the midwest it was the drought, these new numbers coincide with an official look at just how hot our past year was and our report tonight on this from our chief environmental affairs correspondent anne thompson .

>> reporter: raging infernos, surging seas, howling winds. 2012 was extreme weather , hotter than any year on record. the results, federal scientists say of nature and manmade climate change .

>> the 2012 temperatures are part of a long-term warming trend and that is associated with climate change . it is hard to pinpoint what percentage climate change has of a role in the 2012 temperatures. it did have a role.

>> reporter: under normal conditions we should see one record high for every record low but in the first decade of the century we saw two record highs for each record low. in 2011 , it was three-to-one and last year, five record highs for each low. in 2012 , much of the country sweltered.

>> one out of every three americans had at least ten days where they had to deal with temperatures at or above 100 degrees. that's a lot of heat.

>> reporter: all that heat plus a lack of rain and snowfall created a historic drought that still grips over half the country today, making the mississippi river less than mighty, so shallow in places barge traffic could come to a halt.

>> i think that we're looking at some very risky situations for the middle of the country for the coming year, the persistence of the drought so far is a real concern.

>> reporter: extreme weather caused extreme hardship, 11 disasters topping $1 billion in losses, 125 people killed in superstorm sandy alone. it's not just the u.s. catastrophic wildfires raged across southeast australia this week fueled by triple-digit heat that forced the government to add a new color to its maps purple, indicating up to 122 degrees. back in this country the city of chicago normally snow covered in january today tied the record for the most days without at least one inch of snow, 319. now the reason this record of 2012 is significant is because what it signals for our future. federal scientists say we can expect warmer years to become more frequent with more and bigger intense heat waves and perhaps more drought, brian.

>> about the last thing we needed to hear but it's news because of that. anne thompson thank you as always.