The heat goes on, and on: This year will likely wind up as one of the three warmest on record

By Tom Yulsman | November 11, 2017 12:26 pm
North America, as seen by the GOES-16 weather satellite on Nov. 10, 2017. The sun had already set on about two-thirds of the country. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/Colorado State University)

North America, as seen by the GOES-16 weather satellite on Nov. 10, 2017. The sun had already set on about three quarters of the continent. (Source: CIRA/RAMMB/Colorado State University)

With a month and a half to go until year’s end, it’s looking like 2017 will go down in the books as the warmest on record – that is, among years that received no temperature boost from El Niño.

Overall, 2017 is likely to be either the second or third warmest in records dating back to the 1800’s, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization.

Thanks to a boost from one of the strongest El Niño’s of all time, 2016 will almost certainly retain the record of warmest year, at least for now. And we’ll just have to wait to see whether the current year will beat out 2015 — which also got a boost from El Niño — as second warmest.

From WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, quoted in a release:

The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long term warming trend. We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.

Many of these events – and detailed scientific studies will determine exactly how many – bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities.

Back in April, there were some signs that a new El Niño was brewing. Had it happened, this year might well have surpassed 2016 as warmest year. But the El Niño never materialized.

Even so, through September, the WMO reports that the average global temperature was approximately 1.1°C above the pre-industrial era.

Through September, this year was edging out 2015 for the title of second-warmest year on record. A cooling La Niña episode may push 2017 into third place. (Graph: World Meteorological Organization)

Global average temperature temperature anomalies year-by-year, with El Niño and La Niña years indicated. (Graph: World Meteorological Organization)

Now, a La Niña has actually taken hold. Characterized by cooler than average surface waters in the equatorial Pacific, La Niña tends to temper global temperatures a bit. (As I wrote in this post: She’s back! As a giant blob of cold water arises from the depths, La Niña takes over the equatorial Pacific.)

Even so, the long-term warming of the planet caused by our emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will blunt’s La Niña’s cooling influence. And sooner or later, it will sends temperatures climbing above 2016’s high mark – all without the influence of El Niño.

It is only a matter of time.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, ENSO, Global Warming
  • OWilson

    Women, children and minorities first! :)

    What with all the political turmoil we have seen recently, we hardly missed the daily drumbeat of Global Warming hype.

    But I’m sure that a case could be made that the state of the world’s political upheaval is connected to Global Warming!

    I’m looking forward to future findings of the “detailed scientific studies which will determine exactly how many of these (droughts and floods) – bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities”

    But this WMO chap who is relaying us this latest bad news, is no Chip, Chuck or Lisa, from some TV weather forecast.

    He is no other than His Excellency Petteri Taalas, the Secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Appointed in 2015 by the World Meteorological Congress, the supreme body of the Organization.

    Not only that, but The World Meteorological Organization is a (very) Specialized Agency of the United Nations!

    And they were the folks who gave you the scary forecast in the IPCC 1990 FAR Report, some 38 years ago!

    (Which turned out to be wrong, by the way) :)

    • Andrew Worth

      I had a look at the overview of the FAR, and temperatures, SLR and other changes look to be tracking within their expectations. perhaps you can point out where you see the report as being “wrong”.

    • tsac123
  • Mike Richardson

    As the first comment so clearly demonstrates, no amount of empirical data will ever sway the true believers among climate change deniers. Politically motivated ad hominem attacks, hyperbolic rhetoric, and outright distortion cannot change reality, however. It remains for the scientifically literate and those with flexible minds to address this and other problems ignored or exacerbated by such spiteful ideologues.

  • Stephen Abbott

    More bogus charts and hysterical reporting. There were several warming and cooling periods in the 20th century far warmer (the 1920s through the 1960s, for example) and cooler (1900s and early 1910s) than today. Temperature varies. Let’s stop the hysteria.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mr. Abbott: Please give specific examples of how I have been “hysterical.” Also, if you wouldn’t mind, please provide some concrete factual evidence supporting your point that the one chart I included is bogus, and explain specifically how it is bogus. Thank you.

    • tsac123
  • tsac123

    Out of the Billions of years that the Earth has been here. This will be one of the three warmest ON RECORD. Keep in mind that these RECORDS go ALL THE WAY BACK to the 1880’s!



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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