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Hottest July on record: Dust Bowl redux?

NOAA says July was the hottest month in at least the 118 years that people have been keeping track. For most Americans, it sure seemed that way.

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In this July 5 file photo, the sun sets in Pleasant Plains, Ill. Federal scientists say July was the hottest month ever recorded in the Lower 48 states, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees. That breaks the old record from July 1936 by 0.2 degree, according to the NOAA.

Seth Perlman/AP

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If August is feeling a tad cooler than normal, it’s probably because the month you just left behind – that would be July – was historic for its heat. July just became, in fact, the hottest month ever – at least in the 118 years people have been keeping track of daily temperatures across the land.

Average temperature for the Lower 48, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hit 77.6 degrees in July, handily beating the previous record, 77.4 degrees, set in July 1936 – at the height of the Dust Bowl.

Unless the rest of the year turns unseasonably cool for the great swaths of the US that saw record heat – basically all states except for Washington State – the record heat readings for July suggest that 2012 is likely to go down as the hottest year on record in the US.

Why? For one thing,  the first seven months of this year were all off-the-charts hot, at least when measured against historical readings. Additionally, more daily temperature records have been set so far this year than in all of 2011.

The Dust Bowl analogy is apt, at least in part. The record heat sparked a national drought, the sheer geograpic spread of which hasn’t been rivaled since 1956. About 20 percent of the country is experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions, and estimates of the corn yield currently are off by at least 15 percent as parts of the Midwest continue to bake, largely unslaked, as harvest approaches. The drought could take a $50 billion bite out of the US economy before it’s all over.

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