Last year was warmest in recorded history. Warmer than 2010, warmer than 2005, and yes, even warmer than 1998.
Since the early 20th Century, Earth has been on an uphill temperature climb. The last time our planet saw a cooler-than-average year was in 1976. That means that if you’re younger than 38 years old, you’ve never seen a cooler-than-average year.
According to Michael Mann, 2014’s superlative underscores “the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change.” So let’s take a look at it.
10 warmest years on record
Nine of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. Only the then record-warm year of 1998 is an outlier in our string of superlatives.
Related: What the warmest year looks like
“As the saying goes, one record hot year doesn’t make a global warming trend,” said David Karoly, professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne. “However, the repeated setting of new record high temperatures in 2014, 2010, 2005, 1998 and 1997 is clear indication of ongoing global warming.”
Just because it’s not warm here…
It’s true — for many of the six record-warm months in 2014 — April, May, July, August — a large portion of the eastern U.S. and North America was dominated by below average temperatures. Remember our superbly cool July? That was great.
But how much does the weather over our singular heads have to do with global temperature change? Very little. As it turns out, the world is a big place.
Oceans pushed 2014 over the edge
To put it simply, ocean temperatures soared last year, tipping the scales on global climate in 2014. Remarkably, three all-time ocean temperature records were set last year, despite the (much-debated) lack of an El Nino, and it’s the first time a record-warm year has occurred in the absence of an El Nino, says NOAA:
Prior to 2014, the highest monthly anomaly on record for the global oceans was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average, occurring in June 1998, October 2003, and July 2009. This all-time monthly record was broken in June 2014 (+0.62°C / +1.12°F), then broken again in August (+0.65°C / +1.17°F), and then broken once more in September (+0.66°C / +1.19°F)—that makes three all-time new monthly high global ocean temperature records set in a single calendar year.
The northeast Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska were particularly warm in 2014, which not only fueled the drought-enhancing, “ridiculously resilient” ridge over western North America, but also was partly to blame for the cooler-than-average temperatures experienced in the eastern U.S. That ridge held strong until late in the year, and then temperatures flip-flopped to the warmer side for almost all of North America. Remember December?
Global temperature in 1998 was truly remarkable for its time. Fueled by a gang-busters El Nino in the central Pacific, we wouldn’t see another record year warm again until 2005 and then again in 2010, which are now both tied for second.
But, as we have said before, it’s not any individual day, month, or year — it’s the trend. You can no more point to climate change during a summer heatwave than you can use the incredibly anomalous 1998 record as proof that climate change has gone on hiatus.
Given that we haven’t stopped emitting copious amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, it was only a matter of time until another record year was set. Weather Underground’s director of meteorology Jeff Masters hopes that 2014 is the pudding’s proof. “The fact that NOAA rated 2014 as the warmest year on record should put to rest the bogus idea often espoused by climate change deniers that ‘global warming stopped in 1998,'” Masters said.
A long shot
Okay, we know it’s not an image. But this video from Climate Central does a great job of putting into perspective how rare this hot streak is. The odds of 13 of the 15 hottest years on record occurring since the year 2000 without the assistance of greenhouse gas-induced global warming are 1 in 27 million.
…lower odds than getting struck by lightning (1 in 12,000).
…lower odds than falling off a cruise ship (1 in 2,309,000).
…lower odds than getting eaten by a shark (1 in 3,748,067).
“Not even close,” says Climate Central.