SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 20, 2009

Record ocean temperatures take little getting used to

By Cate Lecuyer

Sitting in the surf Tuesday with her 14-month-old goddaughter in her lap, Kristen Toupin let the waves wash over her.

"I usually never sit like this," she said. "It takes me forever to get in the water."

But this hasn't been a usual summer.

In July, ocean surface temperatures reached the highest ever recorded during that month, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA began keeping records in 1880.

The agency identified the Atlantic Ocean off New England, dominated by a hot spot off the Gulf of Maine, as one of three sectors showing the most extreme increase in temperatures.

The average global water temperature in July is around 63 degrees, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. On Tuesday, the ocean temperature at the buoy closest to Beverly and Salem was nearly 73 degrees, according to the NOAA Web site.

For New England beachgoers, adjectives like "bitter cold" and "numbing" were words of the past.

At Dane Street Beach in Beverly, resident Joel Wasserman played in the sand with his 5-year-old son, Jacob.

"Even when it's really hot, you usually go to the beach and feel that instant shock of water," he said. "But now you don't feel it."

It reminded Toupin of the tropics.

"It only feels like it's 10 or 15 degrees colder than Florida," she said. "It's usually numbing cold. This is almost like bath water."

Of course, it's not like she had much to compare it to this year. In the 90-degree heat, she and some friends headed east from Pepperell to spend some time on the beach. With such a rainy June, it was the first time they've played in the waves all summer.

Up at Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach earlier this week, swimmers enjoyed the easy-to-get-used-to water temperature.

"It's much warmer than I can remember," said Paul Allen of Lexington, who described himself as a longtime visitor.

"It's not the warmest, but it's really, really, really warm ... maybe it is the warmest," said Steve Goulet of Gloucester, whose beach date was his granddaughter, Isabella Murowski.

NOAA offered no immediate theory for the global or regional temperature anomalies. But scientists noted that the planet is experiencing the periodic climactic upheavals of the El Nino effect, and they also emphasized that these temperature variations are not by themselves signs of global warming.

"I think it's good," Toupin said about the warm water. "But there's probably something going on that's not right."

Gloucester Daily Times staff writer Richard Gaines contributed to this report.