Saturday, January 09, 2016

Quite a Bit Warmer

Graph 1: Ascending: The global temperatures of my life. (data source: GISS)
January 9, 2016: Last January, I posted a piece I titled, "Just a Little Bit Warmer," just after NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released the final piece of data for 2014 global temperatures. As expected, the data showed that 2014 was the hottest year since the beginning of record keeping in 1980, albeit by a very small margin.

In a few days, GISS will publish the final data for 2015. Once again, it'll be a new record. This time, by a wide margin. The data will be at

In October, the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index crossed 1 full degree celsius above normal, for the first time ever. November became the 2nd month in a row above that mark, and December may well make it 3 consecutive. 2015 will also mark the 4th consecutive year of rising global temperatures; the last time that happened was 100 years ago. So far as I can determine, 5 in a row has never happened during the 135 years of record keeping.

As I noted last year, global warming has been consistent over the half century of my life. But warming is measured in increments we might consider "small." The GISS numbers are presented in hundredths of degrees celsius; the average yearly increment over the course of my life is barely one one hundredth of a degree. 2015 was fully a tenth of a degree warmer than 2014, which was already a year of record warmth. That's not really small.

Last year, I wrote: "2014's record warmth -- with no El Niño this time -- was as predictable as the sun rising in the East, and even cherry picked data points won't flatten the trend line anymore (note: with small data sets -- and 17 points is a relatively small set, one anomaly can throw the trend; just as having the start point in 1998 flattens things, so too would a single new "cold" year)."

That all changed, of course. El Niño returned in 2015, and the temperature records were shattered. Of course, once El Niño ends, we'll likely see a drop in global temperatures for a year or two -- just long enough for the deniers to come out of their foxholes again. In the meantime, even with 1998 picked as a startpoint, the trendline is no longer flat, nor even close to flat:
Graph 2: Even starting with the El Niño of 1998, it's still getting warmer. (data source: GISS)
Then there's the local weather: Last year, the question might have been, How can there be global warming when it's 10 below outside? Indeed, in Michigan, if I start with 1998 I can draw a trend line that's still down rather than up.
Graph 3: That local trend line is still down! (data source: Weather Underground)
Few people here are saying that this year, however. That's likely because in Detroit, where people are accustomed to low temperatures pushing 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the late fall and winter months, the temperature never once dipped below 21 once the polar vortex finally ended in March. Hours before writing this post, I ventured out to my barber, wearing nothing heavier than the same sweatshirt I might wear on a cool Michigania evening in early July. When the snow and cold finally arrives, as it is predicted to do within the next few hours, the "what warming?" questions will no doubt follow.

Graph 4: Detroit temperatures, compared to normal, in 2015. The historically warm December helped locals forget about February. (data source: Weather Underground)
Addendum, January 16, 2016: It took a little longer than I expected, but the final numbers for 2016 were finally posted today. As expected, 2015 is the warmest year on record. As expected, December was warm. Very warm. December is now the warmest month ever, compared to average. Warmer than the previous warmest December of 2014 by .34 degrees celsius, a huge margin. I'm confident it is the largest such margin ever recorded. The December warmth pushed the full year to 87 hundredths of a degree above normal, .13 degrees warmer than the previous record set in 2014.
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