The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This fall was the warmest on record, 2016 will be at least second-warmest year

Not only was fall the warmest, but 2016 is going to be at least the second-warmest year on record. This is an illustration of how much warmer than average it has been since January. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
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Here’s something that does not surprise us one bit: Fall 2016 was the warmest on record in the United States, and it looks as if this year is going to end up the second-warmest on record — even if December is really cold. If you’ve been following along this year, it shouldn’t surprise you either.

From September through November, eight states set warm records. The hottest weather was in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dozens of cities recorded their latest freeze this year. An epic drought has inflicted the Southeast and fueled deadly wildfires. Warm records are outnumbering cold records 8 to 1. In the Lower 48, overnight temperatures during the month of October were the second-warmest on record. No state had colder-than-average overnight lows — it wasn’t even close. And the North Pole shot up 36 degrees above average in November.

We keep writing the same record-warm story month after month after month — it must seem pretty normal.

Except it’s not normal at all.

You may hear that Earth’s climate has always been changing, for the 4.5 billion years it has existed, and that’s true. When it happens naturally — because of changes in the sun, changes in Earth’s tilt — climate slowly shifts over the course of millennia. Right now, on the other hand, our planet is in the midst of a climate change that is faster than it’s experienced in 22,000 years, possibly more.

We know why it’s happening. The emissions from fossil fuels like gas and coal are greenhouse gases. They warm the planet by trapping the sun’s radiation in our atmosphere.

Since the early 19th century, scientists have known that these gases — carbon dioxide, methane, even water vapor — cause warming. It’s far from a new science, but for some reason people are still arguing about it.

As the warmest months and years rack up, we’ll keep writing these articles. Over, and over, and over. The next one you can expect will probably be in early 2017, when we announce that 2016 was at least the second-warmest year on record.

More on climate:

Hot nights have increased at a startling rate in Washington, D.C.

June was record-hot for the U.S.; billion-dollar weather disasters surge to eight

This fall has been so warm, some cities are setting records for latest first freeze

U.S. record heat poised to outpace record cold by factor of 15 late this century

Heat records are vastly outnumbering cold records in Washington