2017: Third Warmest Year on Record for Planet and the Warmest Year Without an El Niño

It is official, 2017 was the third warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2015 and 2016 were 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 58.51°F. That is a staggering 1.51°F above the 20th-century average.

2017 also marked the 41st consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any year posted a below average reading was 1976.

While heat dominated the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Here in the contiguous US, it was our third warmest year on record.

The exceptional warmth of 2017 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While El Niño conditions helped influence record heat in the past, 2017 was the warmest year on record without an El Niño being present in the Pacific. In fact, ENSO neutral conditions prevailed for most of the year and La Niña – the cool counterpart of El Niño – developed in the autumn.

Looking at the bigger picture, nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of the 21st century. Three of those years – 2014, 2015, and 2016 – were back-to-back record breakers. As greenhouse gases – the main drivers 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.

2017 was the third warmest year on record for our planet. Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

La Niña is Back and Likely to Stick Around Through the Winter

La Niña, the cooler counterpart of El Niño, has returned for the second year in a row.

It is a natural event associated with the larger El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern and is marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. More specifically, a La Niña event is declared when sea surface temperatures in that region are at least 0.5°C below average and accompanied by a consistent atmospheric response. This includes more clouds and rain over the western Pacific and less over the central part of that basin. Stronger than average upper-level wind is also a key atmospheric indicator.

The relatively cool water associated with La Niña creates an area of high pressure over the Pacific and pushes the jet stream northward. This, in turn, affects weather patterns around the globe.

In the US, a La Niña event typically brings the southern states conditions that are warmer and drier than normal. The northern tier, on the other hand, usually experiences below average temperatures with the northwest and Great Lakes regions receiving above average precipitation.

That said, every La Niña event is different. There are also other atmospheric factors, such as blocking patterns, which can influence the weather.

According to NOAA, there is a 65%-75% chance of weak La Niña conditions continuing through the winter months.

Typical Winter La Niña jet stream pattern over North America. Credit: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

2016 Ties for 3rd Warmest Year on Record in NYC

New York City experienced some noteworthy weather in 2016, especially swinging between the extremes of record cold and record warmth. In the end, however, the warmth won out. The city’s average annual temperature in Central Park was 57.2°F, which is 2.2°F above normal. That means 2016 tied 1998 for NYC’s third warmest year on record!

With a strong El Niño in place at the beginning of the year, the city experienced its second warmest winter ever recorded. That said, a number of arctic outbreaks sent temperatures plummeting a few times throughout the season. The coldest day of the year came on February 14 when the temperature dropped to -1°F – a new record low for the date.

When summer rolled around, it brought the city a number of very hot and humid days. The city typically sees 15 days per year with temperatures in the 90s, but 2016 produced a sweltering 22. The hottest day came on August 13 when the mercury soared to 96°F in Central Park. When humidity was factored in, the heat index or real feel temperature was in the triple digits.

While El Niño gave readings a boost early in the year, it dissipated in spring and was replaced by its cooler sister, La Niña. Nonetheless, every month of 2016 posted an above average temperature in NYC.

Precipitation was also erratic. While there were a number of heavy rain events, including some that broke daily rainfall records such as the 2.22 inches that came down on November 29, the city was mostly dry. Overall, NYC received 42.17 inches of rain in Central Park for the entire year. That is 7.77 inches below normal. This dearth of rain caused moderate to severe drought conditions across the city.

Snowfall, ironically, was abundant. During one of the year’s arctic blasts, a large amount of moisture was also in place to produce a major show event. Dubbed the “Blizzard of 2016”, this one storm dumped 27.5 inches of snow on the city. It was the Big Apple’s biggest snowstorm on record. For the calendar year as a whole, the city accumulated 35.3 inches of snow, which is 9.5 inches above average.

Records for the Central Park Climate Station date back to 1873.

Every month of 2016 posted an above average temperature in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut

Only four months of 2016 produced average to above average rainfall in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut

La Niña Likely to Develop by the End of Summer

The latest El Niño event officially ended in early June. But now, according to NOAA, there is a 75% chance that La Niña conditions will develop by the close of this summer.

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of a natural climate pattern known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation or ENSO. A La Niña event is characterized by below average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. These cool waters influence the air temperature and affect the position of the jet stream.

In general, La Niña strengthens the polar jet and weakens the sub-tropical jet. This, in turn, affects weather patterns around the globe.

In the US, a La Niña event typically brings the southern states conditions that are warmer and dryer than normal. The northern tier, on the other hand, usually experiences below average temperatures with the northwest and Great Lakes region receiving above average precipitation. These impacts are most apparent during the fall and winter months.

La Niña also tends to reduce the wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. This provides favorable conditions for hurricane development.

The last La Niña event occurred in 2010-12.

Typical Winter La Nina jet stream pattern. Credit: Climate.gov

Typical Winter La Nina jet stream pattern. Credit: NOAA

El Niño Comes to an End

It’s official! The El Niño event of 2015-16 has ended.

According to NOAA, the sea surface temperatures in the so-called “Nino 3.4” region of the tropical Pacific have fallen below the El Niño threshold and ENSO-neutral conditions have returned.  But, this El Niño episode will not soon be forgotten.

Developing in the spring of 2015, this El Niño was one of the three strongest on record, along with the 1997-98 and 1982-83 events. Transferring heat from the ocean to the atmosphere, it helped make 2015 this planet’s warmest year on record. Coming on top of human-caused global warming, the new record was heads and shoulders above the previous one.

Influencing weather around the world, El Niño is probably best known in the US for bringing heavy rain (and the mudslides that go with it) to southern California. This time, however, the little rain that did come was not enough to end the multi-year drought plaguing the Golden State.

With exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures, the eastern Pacific hurricane season was extremely active. Eighteen named storms developed and thirteen became hurricanes. Hurricane Patricia, with winds measured at 200 mph, was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the western hemisphere.

By contrast, the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season was below average. It produced eleven named storms and four hurricanes. This relatively quiet season was largely the result of wind shear in the Gulf of Mexico, generated by El Niño, which helped to hinder most tropical development in the Atlantic basin.

Now that El Niño has dissipated, NOAA expects a La Niña episode – characterized by cooler than average Pacific sea surface temperatures – to develop in the autumn.


ENSO records date back to 1950. Data: NOAA/CPC

2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

The number of hurricanes that develop in any given year varies, and this year, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a “near normal” season in the Atlantic.

Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In this country, we are most affected by the Atlantic hurricane season, which impacts the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. It runs from June 1 through November 30.

Overall, NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of ten to sixteen named storms forming this season, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is rated category 3 or higher.

The numbers for this season’s outlook include Hurricane Alex, the unusual storm that developed in the eastern Atlantic in mid-January.

One of the main drivers behind this season’s average to slightly above average forecast is the diminishing presence of El Niño and the likely development of La Niña in the autumn. El Niño conditions tend to suppress tropical activity in the Atlantic while La Niña conditions do the opposite.

After three consecutive below average hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, a normal season will likely feel very active. But regardless of the number of storms that actually form, it is important to remember that it only takes one landfalling system in your community to make it a memorable season.

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

Massive Wildfire Burns in Western Canada

A massive wildfire is raging in Alberta, Canada. Situated in the heart of that country’s oil-sands region, it is known as the Fort McMurray Fire.

Charring 772 square miles of parched land since it started on May 1st, it is now one of the worst wildfires the area has ever seen. As of Sunday, according to local officials, more than 1,600 structures have been destroyed and more than 88,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

Only a few days after it began, the fire became so large and intense that it started producing its own weather, including pyrocumulus clouds and lightning.

While the exact cause of the fire remains under investigation, unusually warm temperatures, low humidity, and high winds have been helping to fuel the blaze. But, like many other weather-related events this year, El Niño also played a role. It brought the region a dry autumn and winter followed by a warm spring, which created tinderbox conditions that just needed a spark.

This wildfire, according to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, is still burning and is expected to take months to fully contain.

The Fort McMurray Wildfire rages in Alberta, Canada. Credit: The Star and CP

The Fort McMurray Wildfire rages in Alberta, Canada.  Credit: The Star/ CP

Warmest February and Warmest Winter on Record for Planet Earth

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with February 2016 marking the warmest February on record and closing out the warmest meteorological winter ever recorded for the entire planet.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.08°F, which is a staggering 2.18°F above the 20th century average. This marks the highest departure from average for any month on record, surpassing the previous record set just two months ago in December 2015 by 0.16°F.  February 2016 was also the 10th month is a row to break a monthly temperature record.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – known as meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also a record breaker. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 2.03°F above the 20th century average.  That is 0.52°F above the previous record that was set last year.

While heat dominated most of the planet this winter, some places were particularly warm, including much of North America and Europe. Here in the contiguous US, it was our warmest winter on record.

These soaring temperatures, scientists say, were fueled by a combination of the current El Niño – a natural periodic climate phenomenon in the Pacific that boosts global temperatures – and the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While not to discount the strong influence El Niño has on the climate, it should be noted that no other El Niño event of comparable strength has produced temperature anomalies as large as the ones seen recently. Also, it is important to remember that fifteen of the sixteen warmest years on record have occurred this century and they were not all El Niño years.

Year to date, the first two months of 2016 were the warmest such period on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

February 2016. Credit: NOAA

Winter 2015-2016. Credit: NOAA

Winter 2015-2016. Credit: NOAA

Winter 2015-16: Warmest Winter on Record in Contiguous US

Its official!  Winter 2015-2016 was the warmest ever recorded in the continental US.

The average temperature of the lower 48 states this meteorological winter (Dec-Feb), according to NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 36.8°F. That is a whopping 4.6°F above the 20th century average and surpasses the previous record of 36.5°F that was set in the winter of 1999-2000. The considerable warmth in both December 2015 (warmest December on record) and February 2016 (7th warmest February on record) helped boost the season’s overall average.

Across the country, 46 states posted above average seasonal temperatures and no state was cooler than normal. In New England, it was particularly warm with all six states in the region reporting record high temperatures. Alaska – considered separately from the lower 48 by NOAA – saw its second warmest winter on record.

This exceptional warmth, scientists say, was driven by strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific acting on top of continued global warming.

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

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

NYC Seasonal Summary: Winter 2015-16

The spring equinox is still a few weeks away, but meteorological winter (December, January, and February) has officially come to a close and it was the second warmest on record in New York City.

According to the NWS, the city’s average temperature for the season was 40.98°F. That is a staggering 5.9°F above normal. Only the winter of 2001-2002, with an average temperature of 41.5°F, was warmer.

Even though most of the winter felt like we were riding a temperature rollercoaster – from a record warm Christmas to a record cold Valentine’s Day – the warmth won out in the end. We had 40 days where the temperature reached 50°F or higher and every month of the season posted an above average reading. In fact, December 2015 was a staggering 13.3°F above normal and was the city’s warmest December on record.

In terms of snowfall, the city measured 31.2 inches in Central Park, which is 10.2 inches above average. Of this impressive total, 26.8 inches fell during the Blizzard of 2016 at the end of January. Without that storm, the city would have only had 4.4 inches of snow for the entire season.

For the past two winters, multiple extended artic outbreaks courtesy of the polar vortex kept the region colder than average. This year, a strong El Niño in the Pacific helped warmer than normal conditions dominate most of the season in the northeast.

National Weather Service records for Central Park date back to 1873.

Winter of 2015-16 brought NYC a rollercoaster of temperatures, but the warmth won out. It was the city's 2nd warmest winter on record. Credit: The Weather Gamut

Winter of 2015-16 brought NYC a rollercoaster of temperatures, but the warmth won out. It was the city’s 2nd warmest winter on record. Credit: The Weather Gamut