July was the hottest month in the contiguous U.S. since records began in 1895, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday.
The hot weather in July also helped lift the average temperature for the first seven months of 2012 to a record.
In July, the average temperature in the lower 48 states, calculated using the average for each day, was 77.6 degrees—3.3 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average, NOAA said.
The previous warmest July was in 1936, at the height of the Dust Bowl, when the average temperature was 77.4 degrees, NOAA said.
Behind the record temperatures was a dome of high pressure over the center of the country, which combined with a powerful drought to create the scorching temperatures, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
"From a statistics point of view, it's an interesting [marker]," Mr. Crouch said.
July tends to be the hottest month of the year in the contiguous U. S., beating out August. The length of the average day shortens during August, meaning less sunlight, said Angel Corona, chief of data acquisition at the National Weather Service in Anchorage, Alaska.
This July's heat hit some part of the U.S. more than others. The Southwest was the hottest region, with temperatures reaching triple digits throughout Arizona and Nevada as well as the in the Southern Plains states, including Oklahoma and Texas, NOAA said.
The highest temperature last month was recorded in Death Valley , Calif., where the mercury hit 128 degrees on July 12.
No part of the country saw unusually cool weather, though the coasts of California and Washington saw normal-for-July temperatures, as did Louisiana, according to NOAA.
Virginia saw temperatures soar the highest past normal levels in July, four degrees higher than average. That has meant massive crowds at public pools.
"It was insane," said Adel Al-Shabooti, an admissions attendant at Upton Hill pool in Arlington, Va., of the crowds trying to escape the heat last month. "Even coming out of the pool for two minutes, you're sweating."
So far this year, overall temperatures in the contiguous U.S. have been the warmest recorded. During the seven-month period from January to July, the average temperature was 56.4 degrees, or 4.3 degrees higher than the region's long-term average, according to NOAA.
Besides the Pacific Northwest, which saw seasonally average temperatures, the country saw record or near-record temperatures during the seven-month period...
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