MADISON (WKOW) -- 2012 is on the way to becoming the warmest year in recorded history-- both in Wisconsin and the nation, and it's bringing the climate change debate back into the spotlight.
A hot summer broke record after record, and now could mean the hottest year in state history. National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists at the Sullivan, WI office say the average temperature this year in Wisconsin as of October was 50.8 degrees. The warmest year on record was 1931, averaging 47.6 degrees.
In Madison, the average temperature through October was 54.9 degrees. During record year 1931, the average Madison temperature was 51.0 degrees.
Similar trends are also true across the country. In the lower 48 states, the warmest year on record was 1998, with an average temperature of 54.3 degrees. This year so far, the average is 58.4 degrees across the U.S.
NWS meteorologists say it is likely that Wisconsin and the nation will break those records, and that has some people thinking about climate change.
UW-Madison professor Jack Williams is director of UW's Center for Climatic Research. He says he's not surprised to see the potential for a record-breaking year. Williams says it's something we should expect to see over the next several decades as temperatures keep rising.
Williams says the NWS data calls attention to the work on global warming and climate change within the department, and illustrates the importance of understanding the facts of climate variability and its causes.
UW-Madison professor Dominique Brossard studies public opinion data on a number of controversial issues-- including global warming.
"It's kind of a cycle, you know, the more you have those extreme weather events, the more the media will talk about climate change, the more it will be into people's train of thought," says Brossard, "There's been really a progression in terms of the number of people that do believe that global warming is somewhat serious or a serious issue."
In October, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found a growing number of Americans say there is solid evidence of global warming-- at 67 percent. That's true even across party lines. That percentage is up four points since last year and 10 points since 2009.
A Yale University survey on climate change conducted this September found most Americans think the federal government should make global warming a priority-- with 92 percent supporting some focus on clean energy sources, and 77 percent saying global warming should have a "very high", "high" or "medium" priority for the president and Congress. One in four say it should be a low priority.
Brossard says that national trend means more data is needed to find out how people in Wisconsin feel, especially after such an unconventional year.
Brossard plans to apply for a grant that would pay for a large survey by her students. They'll look at public opinion on climate change here in Wisconsin, to better understand local perception of the topic, and how that may affect Wisconsin in the future-- especially farmers.
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