2015 will almost certainly end as warmest year on record — and 2016 is now forecast to be at least as warm

By Tom Yulsman | December 19, 2015 12:01 pm
November 2015 warmest on record

Nov. 2015 warmest on record

During 2015, one global warming record after another has fallen.  And if you’re looking for relief in the new year, you can probably forget about it.

More about the forecast for 2016 in a minute. But first, let’s wrap up 2015:

The latest global warming record to fall for the year now ending was the one for the month of November: According to data released this past week, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces last month was an astonishing 1.75 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average of 55.2 degrees F for the month.

That means November 2015 shattered the previous record, set in 2013, for warmest such month in the 136-year period of record.

With this tally in, it’s now clear that September through November also set the mark for highest departure from average temperature for the season — by far. In fact, nine of the first eleven months of 2015 have been record warm, as has been the period January through November.

So now there really is just one significant question remaining: By how much will 2015 beat the previous mark — set in 2014 — for warmest year on record? We’ll have to wait until the analyses are published, probably in the second week of January, to get an answer.

In the meantime, let’s delve a bit deeper, with the help of some graphics — starting with the one above. It was released this week by the National Centers for Environmental Information, or NCEI. It shows how temperatures varied in November from the long-term average for the month across the land and ocean surfaces.

I’m struck by the large areas of record warmth across the oceans, including in the Pacific and Indian ocean basins, as well as in the Caribbean and the Barents Sea in the Arctic.

Overall, Earth’s average sea surface temperature in November was warmest on record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.36 degrees F, according to the NCEI.

Autumn 2015 warmest on record

Source: Japan Meteorological Agency

Next, check out the graph above from the Japan Meteorological Agency. It shows how September, October, and November shaped up in 2015. Note that big spike at the end of the series.

To grasp just how much warmer 2015 has been from previous record setting years, have a look at this graph from the NCEI:

2015 year-to-date temperature

Source: NCEI

The black line shows how global temperatures varied from the long-term average for 2015, through the end of November. The other lines represent the six warmest years on record prior to 2015.

“Each month along each trace represents the year-to-date average temperature,” according to the NCEI analysis. “In other words, the January value is the January average temperature, the February value is the average of both January and February, and so on.”

Note how high the 2015 line is above the others. It’s not even close.

A massive El Niño has contributed to 2015’s extraordinary warmth — as evidenced by the spear of record-warm surface waters projecting across the tropical Pacific Ocean in the map at the top of the post. Although this year’s El Niño may well have earned the nickname “Godzilla,” human-caused global warming is the biggest factor by far, according to an analysis by Climate Central.

The analysis shows that the 2015 global temperature anomaly is likely to be 1.05ºC (1.89ºF) above the pre-industrial average. El Niño’s contribution is expected to be between 0.05ºC and 0.1ºC, with almost all of the rest coming from humankind’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

If Climate Central’s analysis turns out to be correct, anthropogenic climate change will be responsible for no less than 90 percent of the unusual warmth in 2015.

Even so, the power of the current El Niño is pretty amazing. It has taken the globe more than 100 years to warm by 1.05 degrees C above the preindustrial level (assuming that’s where we wind up by the end of the year). By comparison, it took El Niño just a year or so to contribute 10 percent of that figure. I’d say that’s pretty impressive!

Although El Niño is expected to weaken and transition to neutral conditions during the spring and summer of next year, the forecast from the UK Met Office suggests that betting on a global cooling trend in 2016 would be unwise, to put it mildly.

As Chris Folland, a Met Office research fellow, puts it:

2015 is on track to be the warmest year on record, and this forecast suggests 2016 is likely to be at least as warm, if not warmer.

According to the Met Office estimate, the global mean temperature for 2016 is expected to be between 0.72 °C and 0.96 °C above the long-term average. The central estimate is a temperature anomaly of 0.84 °C — which would make 2016 the warmest on record by the the Met Office’s accounting.

Lastly, if you spotted a disparity between the numbers from Climate Central and the Met Office, that’s because they are different kinds of estimates. Climate Central’s numbers show how much 2015’s global average temperature is likely to exceed the preindustrial average. Whereas the Met Office estimate looks at the long-term average for global temperature, meaning 1961 through 1990.

I’ll take one more look at 2015 when the final numbers are tallied in January. Stay tuned. But there’s no reason to hold our breath. We already know how this year will end.

  • John C

    Then all the more reason to switch from fossil fuels to nuclear. Yeah, right. That’s like convincing the “people of Science!” that GMO’s are harmless. Good luck getting left wing pseudo-religious zealots to reconsider their dogma.

    • OWilson

      Looks like you have fallen for the false argument about what to do about “IT”

      “IT”, according to the satellite record is a scentifically statistically insignificant anomaly of plus 0.33 degrees over the 36 year average.

      But some folks prefer ancient tidal gauges, tree rings, ice cores, steamship intake valves, over satellites and calibrated Argo Buoys :) to measure increases of hundredths of a degree. :)

      • John C

        No, not really. I certainly don’t buy the catastrophism. But if you are on board with AGW the scientific solution comes down to nuclear if you’re ruling out any type of carbon. Windmills, dams (very un-green) and solar panels won’t power an industrial global economy. Billions of people won’t be happy being forced back into pre-industrial subsistence living after so recently climbing out just to keep rich Westerners happy. If you’re all about no carbon, it comes down to fission until we finally figure out fusion.

        • OWilson

          We are coming out of an ice age.

          Manhattan was once under kilometers of ice.
          Today it’s a nice place to visit.

          The gradual and very slight warming we see is good!

          • Mike Richardson

            Except it’s not gradual, nor slight in comparison to the historical record, and it appears to be accelerating. But you’re right in one respect — we will adapt — the only question is who benefits and how many suffer. Some of us do find that to be a matter of concern.

          • OWilson

            Unfortunately, “appears to be”, is not the kind of science that will help the third world achieve the same standard of living and quality of life that you enjoy through the use of cheap fossil fuels.

            History shows that if you deny large numbers of humans the benefits a few enjoy, they will come and take it from you by force.

            It is happening now, and is a “matter of concern”, as the body count rises daily.

          • Mike Richardson

            Yes, quite so. All the more reason to support the development and spread of alternative energy, which won’t be subject to market manipulation, and can more easily raise so many out of poverty, all while avoiding exacerbation of global warming. Glad to see you make a good point.

          • OWilson

            Free markets, as opposed to government regulation, are the best path to economic freedom, prosperity, efficiency, creativeness and innovation. The less government intervention, the better, the higher standard of living.

            Not only in theory, but in practice.

            Haiti versus Dominican Republic

            N. Korea vs S. Korea.

            Cuba versus Puerto Rico/Florida

            They share the same climate, even the same Island or peninsula, or even the same ethnic population.

            Guess which are the economic basket cases?

          • Mike Richardson

            LOL… Absolutely no sense of perspective. That would be like me saying you’d want as little government as Somalia or Afghanistan. If you can’t make your argument without hyperbole, it’s pretty weak to begin with. Western Europe, I might remind you, is the “socialist” model most of us on the left here look to, not the extreme and ridiculous examples you’ve chosen. There’s no one running for president wanting to make the U.S. the next North Korea, though we do have a candidate running with the bravado and machismo of Mussolini and some of the thought processes of his Austrian buddy. The fact that he thinks Vladimir Putin is a swell guy doesn’t say much for his judgment or concept of a free society either. But you can take heart, Wilson, since close to 30% of the country seems to adore him (about the same percentage, and probably the very same folks that supported “W” regardless of what he did). Of course, every poll shows him losing very badly in a general election to “The Socialist,” and even falling in a race against Mrs. Clinton. The coming year should provide a very interesting Presidential race. I look forward to it, as I did our governor’s election. Well, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours!

          • OWilson

            You should do a little historical research on what makes average normal folks in a democracy suddenly start wishing and voting for extremist politicians.

            Especially after they voted twice for an ethnic minority politician.

            He must have done a helluva job, right?

            Then, of course there is his heir apparent, the unimpeachable “Mrs. Clinton”, and her so-called “husband”.

          • Mike Richardson

            The motivation is fear, pure and simple. Fear of the unknown, the different, the “other.” Something demagogues and opportunistic politicians have always been willing to exploit. Logic and reason clearly have no part in it.

          • OWilson

            On that we are in full agreement.

          • Mike Richardson

            Or, more relevant to current events, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. I’m sure you have similar types in Canada, though they didn’t do so well in the last election. That’s encouraging, at least.

          • OWilson

            Canadians, like Americans have short memories (they threw his father out on his ear, and his drugged out mother hung with the Rolling Stones, sans underwear) and like all voters, a lust for freebies, and like all low info voters, a definite disinterest in who will have to eventually pay for it.

            But their debts keep piling up, and like Obama, this new guy is no piker :)

          • James Winterle

            We came out of the last ice age 11,700 years ago. If anything, we should be starting to go down into the next glacial cycle, but the Earth is warming instead.

          • OWilson

            “We should be starting to go down into the next glacial cycle…..

            Was that in your Mayan calendar, or did you buy one of those cheap crystal balls from Amazon?

            Would that be this year, next year, next century?

            We need to know when to have the Ark ready to cast off! :)

      • Wetenschap

        Satellites do not measure temperature, they measure microwave emissivity at very high altitude. Getting from that data to surface temperature requires a complicated numerical calculation as well as various model assumptions (like the use of atmospheric weighting functions). On the other hand, land-based thermometers, buoys in particular, are direct and considerably more accurate. Of course, a thermometer measures only at a single point, so the thermometer data suffers from some lack of complete coverage. Nevertheless, since 1960, the land-based warming trend is about 0.15 deg C/decade with a high degree of statistical certainty (the 2-sigma bounds are +/- 0.02 for most datasets).

        Even the satellite trend (since 1979) is 0.14 deg C/decade (with 2-sigma bounds +/- 0.06). So, your claim of “statistically insignificant” is not correct. Your focus on satellite estimates as pristine belies an understanding of the details.

        • OWilson

          And your focus on ad hoc, sparse/unavailable global surface data going back to 1890, belies an understanding of the details :)

          • Wetenschap

            What? I posted technical details. You posted nontechnical whining. In fact my previous reply clarified why ground-based measurements are more reliable. And they’re not ‘my focus’, they’re the focus of all of the world’s climate research laboratories. But let me make two guesses: first, you know better than all the scientists. Second, you never published a paper.

          • OWilson

            Ah. the plaintive appeal to authority.

            There are at least 3 links in this thread to scientists that take issue with your consensus, conventional wisdom, and many more to come.

            There is no such thing as “settled science” in climatology, which is why the term has been suddenly dropped from the AGWers lexicon, along with Global Warming, in favour of the cover all eventuality, Climate Change.

            If you can tell us how scientifically rigorous,1890 instrument distribution and data collection were, we’d be happy to listen.

            Then I’ll explain to you how satellites work :)

    • lawboy87

      In 2015, the amount of solar electric installed in the USA is the equivalent of bringing 17 nuclear power plants on-line. (Based on the power output of existing nuclear plants.)

      In 2016, the amount of solar electric that is projected to be installed, will be about 60% more than was installed in 2015.

      BTW, it took only 3 weeks in 2015 to install more solar electric than was installed in ALL of year 2008 in the USA.

      What the hell do we need nuclear power plants, when we’re turning to solar that is one hell of a lot cheaper than trying to build 17+ nuclear power plants? The avg nuclear power plant is estimated to cost between $5-$9 Billion and takes years and years to build. Not to mention the cost to operate it and maintain it, nor the cost of dealing with the radioactive waste. All of that can and will be avoided by continuing to install solar electric at the exponential rate we are in the USA.

      • John C

        Germany had a very aggressive and government subsidized solar program. It didn’t pan out in the real world and they are now building coal plants. I wish solar was the solution but if it were, it would have already been the solution by now.

        • OWilson

          I spend a lot of time in the Dominican Republic.

          Their electrical grid is a common joke, mostly oil and LP generated, always crashing.

          They have lots of wind and almost perpetual sun. They are also free enterprise.

          There is no wind or solar power installed there simply because of the cost. The hotels have their own independent generation, but fossil fuel based.

          Anybody who can sell reliable solar/wind power at a practical cost should get down there and make your millions. Then you can do it all over the third world. (But no cheating – no piling up unsustainable debts on their generations unborn) :)

        • bluestatedon

          Your idea that Germany’s recent program of coal plant construction is in some way based on a supposed failure of their active solar and other renewable energy production sector is false. The construction of the coal plants was being planned back in 2005-2008, and was the inevitable result of the German government’s legislation in 2002 to shutter all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

          “A terse history lesson. In the year 2000 the government of Gerhard Schröder announced that all of Germany’s nuclear power plants must close by 2022, and this was passed into law in 2002.. This policy was revised by Angela Merkel in September 2010 to extend the lives of nuclear power plants so that the phase out would occur by 2032. Then after Fukushima, Merkel wisely or opportunistically – take your pick – decided to revert largely to the earlier phase out plan, closing eight nuclear power plants immediately and ruling that all would close by 2022.”

          The amount of energy provided by wind and solar is substantial, but the state of the technology is such that replacing the energy produced by the nuclear plants by renewables alone is not possible. However, the construction of the coal plants in no way means that the renewable energy sector in Germany is a failure—it’s simply a hard recognition that a mix of energy sources is going to be necessary to supply Germany’s energy needs for the foreseeable future.


  • EquusMtn

    I’m personally becoming more interested in the possibilities for photovoltaics on homes and other buildings. The “grid” is too vulnerable to solar activity, terrorism, and other calamities. Given recent advances in batteries for storing electrical power, we could see more and more people getting off the fossil fuel-backed grid, and that would be beneficial from many perspectives.

    • John C

      Portability is where it would logically be headed. The question is the electrical source. How do people in far rural areas efficiently and cost effectively charge their batteries? A subsistence farmer in Africa won’t have access to a solar array or windmill as easily as he could buy and carry a can of cheap gasoline. Even with fusion carbon will still fill a large niche. But getting the major industrial segment of the world economy off carbon and onto fusion is where it is all headed. AGW will be solved and mostly forgotten by technological innovation, not political blathering. Penicillin saved far more lives than trendy ideology ever did.

      • EquusMtn

        Sounds good to me, although I think practical fusion is still a long ways off. Photovoltaics are available here and now, and are competitive with fossil-derived energy, all things considered. Also, isn’t small-scale “Mr. Fusion” type power generation even further away? I believe even after fusion becomes practical, the juice it generates will come from large scale plants and could only be distributed via the grid.

  • OWilson

    With nearly 40 years of satellite records, do you really have to go back to 1890 for your data?

    Do you actually know how much of the earth’s surface was covered by accurate recording instruments in1890?

  • steve

    if you do not believe in global warming your and idiot look at how warm the temperatures have been in the northern hemisphere the last couple of years there was no winter in the western united states for 2014-2015 and and summer temperatures during the fall months and a warm spring and now in thee northeast there seeing temperatures 20 degrees above above average consistently that’s never happened before atleast as far as civilations have been around. On top of that the rest of the world is seeing the same thing.

    • John C

      We stand in awe of your command of 4th grade public school grammar.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Steve: You can disagree with Mr. Wilson. I certainly do. But he is not an idiot. Even more important, ad hominem attacks undercut your persuasiveness. Most important of all, I will not tolerate them here.

      • James Winterle

        I don’t think Mr. Wilson is an idiot either. I think he knows exactly what the deal is with climate change, but it does not fit his world view or political agenda. He uses his smarts to spread confusion and misinformation. Most of what he posts is easily refuted with a cursory web search.

        • OWilson

          Well, that should be easy to prove?

          Your delusionary speculations on my motivational inspiration, is about as accurate as your AGW doomsday beliefs.

          I am semi retired, with no political agenda except to leave the world in better condition than I found it for future generations.

          This includes preventing third world corrupt political and religious barbarians from overrunning a relatively recent and successful social civilization which they intrinsically hate.

          And confronting corrupt politicians and their voters who are piling unsustainable and impossible debt on my future generations. That is obscene selfishness.

          I am also hostile to those who would corrupt and abuse the love of my life, SCIENCE, to further their nefarious ends.

          Other than that, just a simple guy, but one who grew up in a communist household and saw first hand how it works.

          Came to the New World to escape the dogma, but now find that it has followed me here.

          (And no, never worked in Big Oil, get no cheque from Koch, and am not affiliated with any political party)

          • James Winterle

            Glad to hear you love science, but you clearly are not a scientist.

          • OWilson

            Can’t you read?

            I just told you, I’m a simple guy.

            Just posting my comments in a blog that invites comments :)

  • John C

    “Why Climate Change Won’t Matter in 20 Years”


    We are making projections 50 and 100 years out based on our understanding of science and technology today. It is as futile as all the world’s greatest minds of 1900 worrying about how the people of the year 2000 would deal with the massive amounts of horse manure produced by the greatly increased number of horses they would be riding in the future.

    • Tom Yulsman
      • OWilson

        How can they possibly be wrong? They have both scenarios (cooling, now warming, covered) :)

        “”The November 1976 issue of National Geographic, in an article entitled “What’s Happening to Our Climate?” quoted the U.S. National Science Board as saying two years earlier, “During the last 20 to 30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but more sharply over the last decade.” But the same article also acknowledged that though “most scientists agree that today’s ice movement may reflect a worldwide cooling trend … their explanations vary widely.”””

        • bluestatedon

          “most scientists agree that today’s ice movement may reflect a worldwide cooling trend … ”

          The notion that “most scientists” studying the earth’s climate in the 1970s were endorsing the scenario of a cooling earth is a load of crap that’s reliably trotted out by warming denialists by such acclaimed climatologists as James Inhofe and Ted Cruz. The latter referenced a 1975 Newsweek article positing a cooling earth during an interview with the Texas Tribune as support for the myth that there was scientific consensus on a cooling earth. What Cruz failed to mention—if he’s even aware of it—is that the article’s author has since repudiated his original “cooling earth” proposition.


          “The article in question was a single-page story published on April 28, 1975, by journalist Peter Gwynne. It did indeed paint an ominous picture of a cooling world, with particular concern regarding reductions to crop yields with cooler temperatures. The article, however, was criticized decades later, in May 2014, by its

          “Here I must admit mea culpa,” Gwynne wrote last year for Inside Science. “In retrospect, I was over-enthusiastic in parts of my Newsweek article.” He specifically cited both the scare over food production declines “that had scant research to back it,” and a connection between cooling and increases in tornado frequency that also was unsupported by evidence.

          His primary point was simply that science progresses as time passes; though there were some in 1975 who believed cooling temperatures were on the horizon, climate science has improved dramatically since then.
          “Those that reject climate science ignore the fact that, like other fields, climatology has evolved since 1975,” Gwynne wrote. “The
          certainty that our atmosphere is indeed warming stems from a series of rigorous observations and theoretical concepts that fit into computer
          models and an overall framework outlining the nature of Earth’s climate.”

          “Bulletin of the AMS, September 2008:

          An enduring popular myth suggests that in the 1970s the climate science community was predicting “global cooling” and an “imminent” ice age, an observation frequently used by those who would undermine what climate scientists say today about the prospect of global warming. A review of the literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists’ thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth’s climate on human time scales.

          The survey of the peer-reviewed literature between 1965 and 1979 found only seven papers “indicating” global cooling compared with 44 papers indicating warming.”


          “Climate science as we know it today did not exist in the 1960s and 1970s. The integrated enterprise embodied in the Nobel Prizewinning
          work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change existed then as separate threads of research pursued by isolated groups of scientists. Atmospheric chemists and modelers grappled with the measurement of changes in carbon dioxide and atmospheric gases, and the changes in climate that might result. Meanwhile, geologists and paleoclimate researchers tried to understand when Earth slipped into and out of ice ages, and why. An enduring popular myth suggests that in the 1970s the climate science community was predicting “global cooling” and an “imminent” ice age, an observation frequently used by those who would undermine what climate scientists say today about the prospect of global warming. A review of the literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists’ thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth’s climate on
          human time scales.”

          “in a meeting held in July 1979 in Woods Hole… Jule Charney, one of the pioneers of climate modeling, brought together a panel of experts under the U.S. National Research Council
          to sort out the state of the science. The Charney
          panel’s work has become iconic as a foundation
          for the enterprise of climate change study that
          followed (Somerville et al. 2007). Such reports are a traditional approach within in the United States for eliciting expert views on scientific questions of political and public policy importance (Weart 2007). In this case, the Charney panel concluded that the potential damage from greenhouse gases was real and should not be ignored. The potential for cooling, the threat of aerosols, or the possibility of an ice age shows up nowhere in the report. Warming from doubled CO2 of 1.5 to 4.5ºC was possible, the panel reported. While there were huge uncertainties, Verner Suomi, chairman of the
          National Research Council’s Climate Research
          Board wrote in the report’s foreword that he
          believed there was enough evidence to support
          action: “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late” (Charney et al. 1979). Clearly if a national report in the 1970s advocates urgent action to address global warming, then the scientific consensus of the 1970s was not global cooling.”


          “There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then.”


          A review of climate change literature between 1965 and 1979, undertaken in 2008, found that 44 papers “predicted, implied, or provided
          supporting evidence” for global warming, while only seven did so for global cooling….”Global cooling was never more than a minor aspect of
          the scientific climate change literature of the era, let alone the scientific consensus…” the reviewers remarked.

          • OWilson

            I daresay in another 50 years, you’ll find the same groups denying that any reputable scientist had predicted “catastrophic Global Warming”.

            I can see it now: “Washington Post, New York Times were NEVER scientific publications, and Al Gore, John Kerry and Michael Moore were NEVER scientists. I’ve already started to hear these arguments, when the dire doomsday predictions fail to materialize (as usual).

            In politics it is called Hyperbole and Plausible Denial. :)

    • OWilson

      And, there were some great minds in those days.

      Einstein, Planck, Bohr, Shrodinger, Curie, Rutherford, Fermi, Hubble, Fleming, Michelson and Morley.

      Today you have who, exactly?

      (for the low info voter, Obama, Kerry, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Madonna and Sean Penn are NOT scientists) :)

    • Kyle Sager

      Gelerntner’s staggering lack of any quantitative substance in the National Review piece is staggering, his approach so dismissively minimalist as to be silly. National Review is a propaganda rag. Always was. Always will be.

  • Rob Hutchinson


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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