It isn’t official yet, but 2014 appears to have been the hottest year on the world temperature record. In December, during the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru (COP20), the World Meteorological Organization announced in a provisional statement that this conclusion about 2014 weather and climate was virtually certain.
WMO bases its report on datasets maintained by the Hadley Centre of the UK’s Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Centre; and the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Expect the final 2014 weather and climate updates and figures in March 2015.
As well as the challenge to global records, the hot weather trend hit most areas of the world exceptionally hard. Says Professor Joanna Haigh, atmospheric physicist and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute:
“2014 is on course to be the hottest year on record as well as having experienced a range of exceptional weather events, especially heat waves and flooding, across the globe.”
Among the records met or shattered this past year:
- Global oceans: Pacific, polar and subtropical north Atlantic, parts of the south Atlantic, and Indian Ocean all experienced the warmest temperatures ever recorded.
- Europe: Likely hottest year on record.
- Asia: Siberia defrosted under record high temps, some ice breakup up two weeks earlier than normal, methane explosions from previously frozen permafrost. China drought.
- Australia: Extreme heat waves in the autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November); continued drought.
- North America: In Alaska, No below-zero temps in Anchorage, all-time warmest January temperature, avalanches, canceled sled-dog races; Western US drought; Record heat in California (since 1895), driest three-year period there in at least 1,200 years.
- South America: Drought, fierce as California in Brazil.
- Africa: January South African heat wave.
Only parts of the United States and Canada and central Russia had temperatures cooler than usual.
Flooding affected much of Europe, Asia, and South America. Major storms hit China, India (Cyclone Hudhud, India’s most expensive natural disaster ever), northern Bangladesh, northern Pakistan, and the Philippines. Severe flooding hit in Eastern US in April. Number of US days with nuisance floods (road closures, infrastructure damage) rose. Seven feet of snow fell on one day in November in Buffalo, New York. Fewer but more destructive tornadoes occurred in the US (notably in late April).
Sea level rise forced evacuation of at least one entire island. Ocean coral died at record rates. Arctic sea-ice was sixth lowest ever. Warmer and saltier waters melted Antarctic ice from below. See the figure below for a summary of some of the most extreme 2014 weather and climate events.
Greenhouse gas emissions also hit new record highs. Can we say a specific heatwave, flooding event, or catastrophic storm happened only because of climate change? Science has proven that rising temperatures make abnormal events more likely. Recent extreme event trends are consistent with expected impacts of climate change. So the simple answer to the question seems to be “not always, but with increasing frequency.”
In a look toward what we can expect, the video above shows one of WMO’s Weather Reports for the Future: 2050, based on the Fifth Assessment Report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Here’s what Dr. Jeff Masters, founder and director of the Weather Underground, has to say about it:
“Futuristic and creative 3-D weather graphics like you’ve never seen before light up the screen in this forecast for September 23, 2050 video released by the Weather Channel. The video was made in response to an appeal by the World Meteorological Organization to television weather presenters world-wide to imagine a ‘weather report from the year 2050,’ based on the best science we have as summarized in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report…. The video imagines a future when it wouldn’t take a landfalling hurricane to push water levels two feet above normal in Miami Beach—the onshore winds of a hurricane passing 400 miles offshore could cause that level of flooding, due to sea level rise.”