2019: Second Warmest Year on Record for Planet Earth

Its official, 2019 was the second warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2016 was warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 1.71°F above the 20th-century average.

2019 also marked the 43rd consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means every year since 1977 has posted a warmer than average annual temperature.

Looking at the map below, it is clear to see that heat dominated most of the planet last year. The only continent that did not post an annual temperature among its top three highest was North America. It ranked fourteenth. The state of Alaska, however, experienced its warmest year on record.

The exceptional warmth of 2019 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While a weak El Niño was present at the beginning of the year, it dissipated by July with ENSO neutral conditions prevailing afterward.

Credit: NOAA

Looking at the bigger picture, the five warmest years on record have occurred since 2015, and nine of the ten warmest have taken place since 2005. The only year from the last century included on the top ten list is 1998, which ranks tenth.

As greenhouse gases – the main driver of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

2019 was Earth’s second warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

2019: Second Wettest Year on Record for US

The defining weather story of 2019 in the contiguous United States was rain. The year was the second-wettest ever recorded in the lower 48 states. Only 1973 was wetter.

The annual precipitation total, according to a report by NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 34.78 inches. That is 4.84 inches above the long-term average.

While above-normal precipitation was observed across much of the nation, some places were particularly wet. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan each posted their wettest year on record. Another 18 states finished in the top ten.

Months-long flooding in the upper Midwest and Mississippi River basin caused a tremendous amount of damage to farms and homes across the region. In fact, the combined cost of the Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi River floods was $20 billion. That adds up to about half the total cost of the 14 different billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that occurred in the US during 2019.

Heavy rain events and flooding are nothing new, but experts say climate change is making them worse. As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the air is able to hold more water vapor. With evaporation from oceans, rivers, and lakes increasing, there is more water vapor available to condense and fall as rain.

Weather records for the contiguous United States date back to 1895.

Credit: NOAA

November 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest November on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with November 2019 marking the second warmest November ever recorded on this planet. Only November 2015 was warmer. The month also closed out Earth’s second warmest September to November season on record.

According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.86°F, which is 1.66°F above the 20th-century average. This November also marked the 419th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below-average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of September, October, and November – meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.69°F above the 20th century average of 57.1°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record. It is also important to note that the ten warmest September-November periods have all occurred since 2005, with the five warmest taking place in the last five years.

While heat dominated most of the planet this November, some places were particularly warm, including Central Europe, eastern Russia, northern Canada, and most of Alaska. For the contiguous US as a whole, November 2019 ranked in the middle third of the historical record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish as the second or third warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

COP 25: UN Climate Talks Come to Disappointing End

After extended negotiations, the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain, known as COP 25, came to a disappointing end on Sunday. Delegates from nearly 200 countries failed to reach a consensus on how to finalize the rules and processes needed to translate the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels and urged countries to pursue an even tighter cap of 1.5°C (2.7°F). To achieve this ambitious goal, almost 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But when added up, the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, will miss the 2°C goal. In fact, they would allow for a 3.2°C (5.76°F) rise in our global temperature. For reference, we have already seen a 1°C (1.8°F) increase since 1880.

The main goals of COP 25 were to push for more substantial NDC commitments, set the rules for a carbon trading market, and establish a financial provision to compensate developing countries for “loss and damages” associated with global warming. But in the end, the delegates were only able to agree on vague language supporting the basic essence of the Paris Agreement. They cited the “urgent need” to reduce emissions but pushed off all major decisions to next year.

This unconstructive outcome is particularly notable as the global temperature continues to rise and the resulting impacts – such as more intense storms, wildfires, and sea-level rise – are becoming more apparent. It is also a stark contrast to the fact that Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

The Paris Agreement, although ratified in record time, is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

In terms of US involvement, President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, has already announced his intent to withdraw from the international accord. The agreement, however, was written to ensure that countries could not begin the formal withdrawal process until four years after the accord officially went into effect. Consequently, the US cannot truly withdraw until November 4, 2020. That is one day after the next presidential election. As such, the role that the US will ultimately play in global climate action rests with voters.

The Madrid meeting was the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 26) will take place in November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Credit: UN

Talking About Art and Environmental Policy at AGU

The 100th Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is taking place this week in San Francisco, CA. Marking its centennial, the conference, which is the largest gathering of earth and space scientists in the world, aims to “celebrate the past and inspire the future”.

Thrilled to be a part of it, I will be giving a presentation titled The Power of Perception: Art’s Influence on US Environmental Policy Past and Present. It looks at the role art has played in helping to build the political will behind several landmark environmental policies over the years and how it can help with climate change communication today.

From the Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 to the present, images have helped give the public, and the policymakers they elected, a new way to relate to and understand the issues of their time. In many cases, images mobilized public concern that helped drive legislation. The publication of photos of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 in Time Magazine, for example, helped spur the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA in the 1970s.

While environmental concerns have changed over the years, so too has technology and the way we relate to images. As such, this presentation also poses questions about what form of art will reach the most people and motivate them to speak up on climate change today.

Credit: AGU

October 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest October on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2019 marking the second warmest October ever recorded on this planet. Only October 2015 was warmer.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.86°F. That is 1.76°F above the 20th-century average. October also marked the 418th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below-average reading was December 1984.

Furthermore, the ten warmest Octobers have all occurred since 2003, with the last five Octobers being the five warmest on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this October, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, northern Canada, eastern Europe, northern Russia, the Middle East, and western Australia. These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

For many people in the northern and central parts of the contiguous US, however, this October was unusually cold. To put this disparity into context, consider that the United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail also highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather conditions that are happening in any one part of the world.

Year to date, the first ten months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

How Climate Change is Impacting Fall Foliage

Colorful foliage is the hallmark of autumn, especially in the northeastern United States. As the season heats up, however, this familiar natural phenomenon is reflecting the impacts of our changing climate.

While decreasing sunlight hours is a key factor that signals the annual color change, the timing and duration of the displays are largely dependent on temperature and precipitation. Dry, sunny days and cool nights are the ideal conditions for beautiful fall foliage. But, as our climate changes, warmer and wetter conditions are becoming more common across the region.

In general, this means autumn colors are expected to peak later and disappear sooner. While there will still be variability from year to year, the fall foliage season, overall, is expected to get shorter. Furthermore, with the increasing probability of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainstorms, leaves could be swept from trees effectively ending the leaf-peeping season in a single day.

More than just an aesthetic detail, these changes are sure to have an impact on the multi-billion-dollar a year ecotourism industry in several states.

Credit: Climate Central

September 2019: Earth’s Warmest September on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. September 2019 tied September 2015 as the warmest September ever recorded on this planet.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.71°F. That is 1.71°F above the 20th-century average. September also marked the 417th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below-average reading was December 1984.

Furthermore, the ten warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the last five years being the five warmest on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this September, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, the southeastern United States, and large parts of Asia and Canada. For the contiguous US as a whole, the month tied September 2015 as the second warmest September on record.

With ENSO neutral conditions prevailing in the Pacific, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

September 2019 was Earth’s warmest September on record. Credit: NOAA

Autumn is Heating Up Across the US

Autumn is a transitional season. It is generally a time when the heat of summer fades away and the chill of winter gradually returns. But, as our climate changes, the season is heating up.

Across the contiguous United States, autumn temperatures have increased an average of 2.5°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The western part of the country has seen the fastest seasonal increase, with Reno, NV warming 7.7°F.  Las Vegas, NV, and El Paso, TX have each seen a rise of more than 5°F since 1970.

These warmer temperatures may feel like a summer bonus for some, but they also bring a number of negative impacts. Less frost-free days means the allergy season is extended and disease-carrying pests like mosquitos and ticks are able to live and thrive longer. Warmer temperatures also drive up energy bills, as people with air conditioning units use them longer into the season. This in turn, if they are powered by fossil fuels, adds even more heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Wildlife is also feeling the effects of a warming fall. The timing of when fruits ripen, for example, is being skewed from its “normal schedule”. In turn, this is impacting the once well-synced patterns of animal behaviors such as bird migration and hibernation.

Looking ahead, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, so too will the temperature and its associated impacts.

Credit: Climate Central

Climate Week NYC Focuses on “A Race We Can Win”

Climate Week NYC begins on Monday. This annual event is taking place alongside the UN Climate Action Summit, the theme of which is “A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win.”

Organized by The Climate Group, the week-long event brings together leaders from a variety of sectors, including government, business, and non-profit organizations, to discuss solutions to climate change. Their overall goal is to accelerate climate action and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Public events to raise awareness and support of the summit’s mission are scheduled all around the city. They range in style from panel discussions and seminars to concerts and exhibitions. One early event taking place this Saturday is the “Our Future Festival”, which has been organized by the NYC Chapter of the Climate Reality Project.  For the full program of events, go to the Climate Week website.

Credit: The Climate Group