On the very day the bomb cyclone exploded, we learned that 2017 was one of the very warmest on record

By Tom Yulsman | January 4, 2018 6:37 pm

One verdict on global warming in 2017 is in: Warmest year with no temperature boost from El Niño, and second warmest overall

Global temperature anomalies in 2017

This map shows how air temperatures at a height of two meters varied in 2017 from the 1981–2010 average. (Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Today brought another lesson about the difference between weather and climate.

While winds were howling, snow was blowing, and temperatures were plummeting thanks to the bomb cyclone off the U.S. East Coast, a European science agency announced that 2017 was the second warmest year in records dating back to the 1800s. Only 2016 was warmer, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

That year received a very significant temperature boost from a strong El Niño, which is characterized by high surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Among all years without an El Niño, 2017 was the very warmest in the Copernicus analysis.

This finding is particularly noteworthy because 2017 saw cooling in the tropical Pacific from La Niña, the opposite of El Niño, both early and late in the year.

The Copernicus findings are comparable to an independent analysis done by the Japan Meteorological Agency. In coming weeks, we’ll also see analyses by NOAA, NASA, and the U.K.’s Met Office.

Over the long run, these different independent analyses have produced very similar results, as this graphic shows:

Running 60-month averages of global air temperature at a height of two metres (left-hand axis) and estimated change from the beginning of the industrial era (right-hand axis) according to different datasets: ERA-Interim (Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF); GISTEMP (NASA); HadCRUT4 (Met Office Hadley Centre), NOAAGlobalTemp (NOAA); and JRA-55 (JMA).

Running 60-month averages of global air temperature at a height of two metres (left-hand axis) and estimated change from the beginning of the industrial era (right-hand axis) according to different datasets: ERA-Interim (Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF); GISTEMP (NASA); HadCRUT4 (Met Office Hadley Centre), NOAAGlobalTemp (NOAA); and JRA-55 (JMA).

The news released by Copernicus today— as a brutal winter storm hammers the Northeast — reminds us that human-caused global warming has not repealed winter.

SEE ALSO: The view from space as the so-called ‘bomb cyclone’ exploded into a dangerous storm

That said, there has been increasing discussion among climate scientists about how long-term warming might influence major winter storms, as well as other forms of extreme weather.

Sea surface temperature anomalies in the Western Hemisphere on Jan 4, 2017

Sea surface temperature anomalies in the Western Hemisphere. Note the orange and red colors.

In a nutshell, the theory goes like this: As temperatures rise more in the Arctic than in the lower latitudes, the jet stream weakens, gets more wavier, and tends to stay in this orientation for longer. This allows cold Arctic air to spill south more readily, and warm, moist air from the south to push north. When a cold, dry airmass runs into a warm, moist one, a cyclonic bomb can go off, just like the one off the East Coast. And when the clash happens over warm ocean waters, like it just did, the storm can get a moisture boost, leading to greater snowfall. In fact, sea surface waters from the Carolinas north into Canada are mostly warmer than average — in some places dramatically so.

A few important caveats are in order here: First, the jet stream theory, advanced by Rutgers climatologist Jennifer Francis and colleagues, is just that — a theory. And while evidence has been accumulating to support it, it is still a contentious area of science with many researchers not yet convinced.

Second, even if this theory offers a reasonably accurate picture of what’s going on, it would be wholly incorrect to say global warming “caused” the East Coast storm. Today, it is going by the term “bomb cyclone.” But this type of storm, known as a Nor’easter in years past, has a long and storied history. Long-term residents of the New England coast are well familiar with these damaging extreme weather events.

Over time, will events like this become stronger as the world warms? Possibly, scientists say. And then there’s the question of how much stronger.

The bottom line is that this is an area of active inquiry. And we just don’t have all the answers.

But this much is clear: The world is warming, humans are primarily to blame, and the trend has reached new heights in the past few years.

  • Mukesh Shukla

    Great post can you suggest me some hot topics for my website pehlasauda.in

  • TLongmire

    Our reality is a multidimensional gyroscopic orb where each change triggers an opposing change and this is merely one manifestation of it.

    • OWilson

      The Earth is in balance.

      That’s what is so wonderful about it.

      It;s the exception that makes the rule!

  • John C

    I’d like to make a scientific point – not start a fire fight.

    In statistics there is what’s called the “gee whiz!” chart. Zoom into one small section of charted data and it seems extraordinary – until you see it in the context of the big picture, then it looks more like what I guess you could call a “meh…” chart.

    In my opinion, the illustrations of temperature arbitrarily focusing just from the start of industrialization are in many ways gee whiz! charts.

    For example, if you look at the 2000 year chart you see temp was in a roughly steady state from year 0 to year 500 (although from a statistical point of view there is no reason to focus on the past 2000 years rather than the past 3000 or 15,000).


    Looking at that 2000 year subset of data you immediately notice that from year 500 to 800 general significant warming occurred. From the year 800 to 925 or so there was a temp spike of a magnitude almost comparable to that of 1850 to present.

    The Medieval warm spike 3 segments above the zero line was followed 7 centuries later by a cold period of equal magnitude, 3 segments below the zero line. For any chemical, geophysical or even economic system based on equilibrium this is completely expected.

    By 1850 (the start point of most AGW charts) temp was still well below the zero point norm for the 2000 year time period. It is not at all surprising that temp has not only risen to the zero point but overshot it in a very significant way as a counterbalance to the extreme cold trough of 1600.

    So, a few conclusions:
    – Even during the arbitrary subset of time of the past 2000 years there has never been steady state temperature. Quantum unpredictability rules.
    – There have been significant preindustrial deviations from the zero line of a magnitude and rapidity that match what we have experienced in recent history since 1850.
    – So the steep spike in temp since industrialization began COULD arguably be another such natural deviation as well as counterbalance reaction to the severe cold of 1600 – which just coincidentally happened when fossil fuel use became widespread – coincidence is not necessarily evidence of causality.
    -Or, more likely in my opinion, we are experiencing the completely unsurprising, not at all unprecedented counter-reaction of an equilibrium system to the extreme of 1600 which has been catalyzed to some degree by human activity.
    But from the 2000 year picture, you certainly cannot conclude that climate was ever in a narrow band “ideal” state until humans disrupted it in a way unprecedented in Earth’s history.

    • OWilson

      As someone who recently re-retired, this time from the statistical analysis field (insurance), I can tell you that charts and graphs can be manipulated to show just about anything the customer wants.

      You pick an innapropriate Y Scale or X Scale and the data can shoot off the very top of the chart.

      And nothing in life keeps the same trajectory for long!

  • JDS

    Good Lord you guys are still pushing this Global Warming crap. I see I haven’t missed anything since I cancelled my subscription years a go.

  • Christopher Johnson

    Oh puhlease. Our science today is miraculous. We have the ability to describe the climate. That is amazing. Even just 100 years ago, we could only react. But to be able to describe what happened is a great advance. Someday, maybe hundreds of years from now, our science will advance enough to predict climate changes. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and pretend.

  • JWrenn

    I love how crazy people get about this. People don’t trust the temperature readings of the world because of their political leanings…that is insane.

    • monsieur

      We deserve what’s coming to us. Well, maybe not ALL of us. Like you and I for example. But we as humans are failing as a species due to willful ignorance and failure to admit to our mistakes. And selfishness is also making it impossible to address the issues that can actually be fixed. To many, instant gratification is worth losing our future, it seems. And even better, climate change is going to cost more money than alleviating it ever would, though the political hacks refuse to accept it. Just look at the cost of the rebuilding efforts after these disasters ffs. It’s only going to get worse as time goes on and our emissions stay high. Sadly this is now the norm.

      • JWrenn

        Seems true on many levels. I sometimes wonder if we deserve it as well because we don’t talk sense into people. Then I come onto the internet and try……yeah that doesn’t last too long:)

      • OWilson

        Your credibility problem stems from the credibility your messengers :)

        Al Gore, Lady Ga Ga, Madonna, Indiana Jones who “regulary flies one of his many planes up the coast for a cheeseburger”, Leo di Caprio, who likes to ring in the same New Year at multiple world venue, Prince Charles, Richard Branson,and Speilberg on fossil fueled giant yachts the size of a small city with a population of servants to match. The Pope even has his own country!

        Notice, they are all Democrats, so they get a pass from the FNM :)

        Here’s some science for you:

        “Global Warming Hypocrites: Their Carbon Footprint Is OK, But Yours Must Be Eliminated

        Scientists, identified as “conservation scientists” who presumably oppose human greenhouse gas emissions, have looked into their own lifestyles, as well as the lifestyles of other “conservation scientists,” and found that they are preaching one thing while practicing another.

        “Most” of these scientists, the British Telegraph reports, “have a carbon footprint which is virtually no different to anyone else.” Those are the findings of a new study from Cambridge University published by researchers who were “were keen to find out whether being fully informed about global warming, plastic in the ocean or the environmental impact of eating meat, triggers more ethical behavior.”

        What they found was “conservation scientists,” 300 of them, “still flew frequently — an average of nine flights a year — ate meat or fish approximately five times a week and rarely purchased carbon offsets for their own emissions.”

        “They were also less green in traveling to work than medics, and kept more dogs and cats. A recent study suggested pets are a hefty ecological burden. It takes more than two acres of grazing pasture to keep a medium-sized dog fed with meat, while the eco-footprint of a cat is similar to a Volkswagen Golf.”

        The study’s lead author, Andrew Balmford, a professor of conservation science at Cambridge, said that “as conservationists we must do a great deal more to lead by example.”

        Kerry Jackson, 10/16/2017
        Investors Business Daily

        • Mike Richardson

          “I myself have a low carbon footprint, eat only locally grown produce, hardly any meat, live in a small space, have no vehicle and walk to everything.”

          Why brag of your virtue if you don’t believe excess carbon emissions are a sin? Seems rather contradictory. 😉

  • Mike Richardson

    The mayor of Boston had no doubts regarding how climate change was making a bad situation worse. He pointed out that 30 years ago, his city didn’t experience the kind of street flooding they did this week. Rising sea levels have had that effect with many cities on the east coast, from Miami to New York to Boston. Having that flood water rapidly freeze just made things that much worse in the case of Boston, unfortunately.

  • OWilson

    Today we have more scientific and technical tools to monitor, measure and track changes in the Earth’s climate. That’s a good thing!

    What has not developed at the same pace is man’s ability to accurately predict the future. We can barely look a couple days ahead in weather forecasting, much less a hundred years from now.

    We don’t need the anacdotal musing of an unnamed, recovering alcoholic, Sanctuary City Mayor, nor the alarmist fortune telling that is so seductive to our scientific agencies, when making important economic and political decisions.

    Here’s an example of alarmist predictions by a science agency. But we are told they must be believed, at any costs! :)

    When these noisy outlandish predictions are first promulgated, they are taken seriously, when they fail they are quietly removed from the debate. The “Tipping Points” go by without notice, with not so much as a by your leave, never mind a mia culpa :)

    We need to be calm, consider, but verify these outlandish claims!

    Here’s one, and there are so many more!

    “Exclusive: Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer!

    Polar scientists reveal dramatic new evidence of climate change

    Exclusive: Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer. It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

    The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, making it possible to reach the Pole sailing in a boat through open water, would be one of the most dramatic – and worrying – examples of the impact of global warming on the planet. Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer.

    “From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water,” said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

    “The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the North Pole is covered with extensive first-year ice – ice that formed last autumn and winter. I’d say it’s even-odds whether the North Pole melts out,” said Dr Serreze.””

    The Independent – Thursday 26 June 2008 23:00 BST

    Agencies like the NSIDC, not to mention the U.N. IPCC have a huge impact on public opinion!

    (For the record in 2018, the Arctic is still frozen solid!)

  • Bradley White

    You lost me when you said “more wavier”

    • OWilson

      What about, this was the “Very Day The Bomb Cycle Exploded”

      That kind of language is usually reserved by journalists for events of biblical proportions, not the latest winter cold spell! :)



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.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar