“Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records”

By Tom Yulsman | December 15, 2016 2:01 pm

Temperature anomalies for November 2016. North America, and especially the Arctic region, were much warmer than average. Central Russia was colder than normal. (Source: NASA/GISS/GISTEMP)

The quote in the headline is from a Tweet this morning from Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, following release of his institute’s monthly climate analysis.

It found that November was the second warmest such month in 136 years of modern record-keeping. It was edged out only by November of 2015, which was 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.126 degrees F) warmer. As Schmidt’s Tweet suggests, despite November’s second-place status, and today’s frigid cold, the full year of 2016 is firmly on track to end as the very warmest on record.

If you’re wondering what goes into the analysis, according to NASA:

…it is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.

For more details about how the analysis is carried out, including how adjustments are made to account for the urban heat island effect, see the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis, or GISTEMP, pages — here.

If you have been shivering today under the massive blast of Arctic air that is surging south across large parts of the United States — and wondering why anyone would talk about record warmth — keep in mind that what you are experiencing today is weather. That’s the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and a particular time.

And the state of the atmosphere today in much of the United States is, well, polar. Here is what’s producing these conditions:


Source: National Weather Service

The polar vortex, a large area of low pressure and cold air in the high north, often will expand in winter, sending cold air southward with the jet stream — as the graphic above demonstrates. This is a normal feature of winter weather in North America, with large outbreaks of Arctic air plunging far south into the United States.

The current frigid outbreak may be helping us forget just how warm it was in many places across the United States last month. In fact, during November there were 48 record high temperature records set in the U.S. for every record low, according to an analysis by Climate Central. “Of all the daily temperature records set or tied last month, 98 percent of them were record highs,” the analysis found.

While polar blasts come and go in a matter of days, climate is something that takes place over a much longer time period. Climate is, in fact, the average of the weather in a particular area — or the globe overall — over years, decades, centuries and longer.

With that definition in mind, consider what the trend in global climate looks like:

Source: James Hansen and Makiko Sato

Source: James Hansen and Makiko Sato

The trend lines show how the global average surface temperature of the Earth has differed from the 1880-1920 baseline, through last October. (The graph hasn’t been updated yet for November.) That baseline period was chosen to show the magnitude of warming relative to the pre-industrial period.

The current year will probably come in at a little less than 1.3 degrees C above preindustrial times. The goal of the landmark Paris Agreement, now ratified by 117 nations including the United States, is to keep global warming well below 2 degrees C above preindustrial times.

We’re obviously pretty far down the road to that unhappy destination. And with the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, we may well accelerate a bit in that direction. That’s because he has threatened to withdraw the United States from the agreement, and to cancel policies initiated by President Obama to reduce our emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

  • Mike Richardson

    It’s sad that it needs to be repeated so often, but a sudden cold snap in winter does not negate the overwhelming evidence that average global temperatures, and particularly the temperatures at the poles, are measurably rising. It’s the difference between anecdotal and empirical evidence. James Inhofe holding a snowball and proclaiming it disproves global warming, versus cumulative data obtained from atmospheric and oceanic measurements taken over decades showing the opposite, and further correlating it with the rise in humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Sadly, we are likely to be in for more of Inhofe’s version in the coming administration.

  • OWilson

    Let’s hope we can remain calm and not not try to project Presidential personal deluded nightmares onto this situation.

    Terrorism, “is eclipsed only by the long-term threat from climate change, which will lead to devastating weather patterns, terrible storms, drought, and famine.” sez Obama. :)

    I wouldn’t place too much trust in his personal crystal ball.

    Remember, he’s the guy that told the dupes you could keep your doctor, keep your plan, and save $2,500.00 at the same time.

    He also promised the seas would stop rising and the planet would heal.

    Definitely not a man one should take seriously, or that of his appointed disciples, his Agency Heads. :)

    • BBQman

      Speaking of history, I am very happy with the efficiency of The new Trump Administration, and some of his picks for various slots are well thought out.

      Take Scott Pruitt for EPA, Scott already has many man hours invested with the EPA and fully understands their inter-workings, and their is no doubt that he will help settle the question about whether or not 2016 is the hottest year on record, or what may have caused it to be so, if in fact it proves true.

      Then, Rick Perry for Energy, another very logical pick….as Rick has also much time invested in dealing with many of the good people at that department!

      • OWilson

        I’m happy for you and the world, that you have gone back to the American can do dream. A shining city on the hill. An inspiration to all.

        The Left have left the world in a sorry state as usual, in debt and on fire.

        The Middle East is literally on Fire, a doubled National Debt, a new Cold War with Russia, and an Iran and North Korea threatening to wipe us all out.

        A militant arm of the Isalmists are determined to kill our western culture and way of life, and have mobilized and have infiltrated the West to the extent that we don’t know who are friends, or foes, until the mass killings start.

        Yes, Virginia, we did get the fundemental change promised by Obama.

        And it ain’t pretty.

      • jonathanpulliam

        David Friedman as Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel was certainly not an inspired choice, nor was his pick for U.S. National Security Advisor, the Islamophobic Mike Lynch, whose son had to be fired from the Trump campaign for spreading false news stories. Perry, Pruitt, and Tillerson are solid choices, to be sure.

  • https://ridingtheirownmelting.wordpress.com/ cgs

    It is also interesting to see how current temperatures overlay with the computer models. Many skeptics think the comparison shows a complete failure of the models.

    Not so. Below is a figure from the Climate Lab Book site run by Ed Hawkins. He is a climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading. The figure is an update of figure 11.25 from the IPCC AR5. He will likely add the data from 2016 sometime early in 2017. The text below the figure is a further explanation of the information in the graph. Clicking on the figure enlarges it.

    The figure shows that current temperatures are well within the projections using either baseline period.


    Updated version of IPCC AR5 Figure 11.25b with the HadCRUT4.4 global temperature time-series and uncertainty (black). The CMIP5 model projections are shown relative to 1986-2005 (light grey) and 2006-2012 (dark grey). The red hatching is the IPCC AR5 indicative likely range for global temperatures in the 2016-2035 period, with the black bar being the assessed 2016-2035 average. The blue lines represent other observational datasets (Cowtan & Way, NASA GISTEMP, NOAA NCDC, BEST). The green axis shows temperatures relative to 1850-1900 (a pseudo-pre-industrial period).

    Two further graphs can be found at Dr. Hawkin’s website:


  • BBQman

    Maybe the record should be extended back a bit further then the 1800s, 200 years is not sufficient to award 2016 any type of historical significance, instead, research Ship Captain logs for a better understanding of a few other years that have a higher probability deserving of such a prestigious title.

    At this time, I would like to enter the years 1115ad, 68bc,1347bc, 1665bc, 2264bc, 3017bc, 3233bc, 3676bc, 4009bc, 4846bc, 5725bc, 6818bc, and 7273bc, as shown by the 2004 Greenland GISP icecore data. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/70603d02d549e66063e2efe00e1d24fe9b9842697cb7dc772b4674f0e3c62fc0.jpg
    World land temperatures are within normal ranges, all is well.
    CO2 is not a climate driver, and has no significant ability to add to the green house effect after 345ppm, CO2 primarily always Lags temperature changes, it is primarily a byproduct of energy.

  • YOaC

    So since the end of the LIA, over the course of the last 135 years, we have experienced a natural climate warming totaling 1°C.

    Sounds quite natural and normal, because if it hadn’t warmed by this inconsequential amount, we would still be in an ice age.

    • Doc Farmer✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵈᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

      Is it just me, or does the “average global temperature” seem just about as relevant as the “average global telephone number”? I mean, seriously, how do you reduce a freaking PLANET down to a single temperature number and determine its health primarily on that? Or at least nag about it the loudest, anyway?

      Think about the size of the planet, the volume of water in the oceans as well as the atmosphere, the depth of the atmosphere and its currents and levels, the quintillions of data points necessary around the globe necessary to even BEGIN to comprehend its complexity (let alone accurately predict or “control” or “FIX” it).

      “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” — Samuel Clemens

      Look at what we end up when they start trying to muck around with it…

      • YOaC

        And we know the Medieval Warm Era was warmer than our current Modern Warm Era, the Roman Warm Era was warmer still, and the Minoan Warm Era was yet warmer than that.
        So, looking over the last few thousand years shows we are experiencing a cooling phase.
        Another couple degrees, along with healthy CO2 levels of about 800ppm, couldn’t hurt one bit.

        • Doc Farmer✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵈᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

          Think of how many more people we could feed at that level…

          • YOaC

            To quote a friend, “Prezactly!”
            (h/t Cleatus)

          • Doc Farmer✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵈᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

            I heard “Absolutable!” and found it quite funny… [from a “Ugly Americans” episode]

      • OWilson

        That 1 degree in 135 years has a huge margin of error.

        It comes from NOAA’s database which includes such esoteric sources as 100 year old steamship water intake valve temperatures, ancient tidal gauges and huge guesses about unexplored regions of the earth. All have been “adjusted upwards” to reflect current global warming theory.

        The satellite record (37 years) is more reliable but a mere blink in the Earth’s long history.

        There is NO problem!

        We have the greatest human well being in history, and record world food production every year!

  • Alex

    Climate Change in the United States (2000 – 2100)



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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