Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Extreme Global Heat In February Not The End Of The World, But.......

Hot times across the world in February, the most
above average warm month on record  
As worldwide temperature and climate assessments for February's global temperatures, jaws have been dropping among the climate scientists, meteorologists and weather geeks of the world.

The world was off the charts much warmer than normal, far more above average than any other month in recorded history. This follows December and January, which also set records for the greatest departures above normal.  

However, February was just ridiculous. February was a bit over 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal over the globe. Two degrees doesn't sound like all that much. After all, do you really notice the difference between, say,  55 and 57 degrees?

But a two degree departure from normal for a month distributed over the whole world is just insane and nothing close to that has been observed before.

February was also, incredibly, the tenth consecutive month a global high temperature record was set. As the Associated Press reported, government scientists sputtered that the wildly high temperatuers were "astronomical" or "staggering." "strange," or "insane."

The departure from normal in the Arctic was especially off the charts. You know you're in trouble with extreme warmth when the mapmakers at NOAA run out of colors to depict how hot it was in parts of the Arctic in February.

Scientists don't usually use huge superlatives like this, so you know something is up.

Here's Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who, according to the Associated Press, doesn't get too, too excited about new high temperatures being broken. It's been happening all the time, she's used to it.

But this is different. Says Cobb, quoted by the AP:

"When I look at the new February 2016 temperatures, I feel like I'm looking at something out of a sic-fi movie. In a way we are: It's like someone plucked a value off a graph from 2030 and stuck it on a graph of present temperatures. It is a portent of things to come, and it is sobering that such temperature extremes are already on our doorstep."

February temperatures were incredible, for sure. But before you panic, the world is going to temporarily cool off a little, and soon. A strong El Nino, that periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean looks like it's about to start waning, as it usually does after several month.

El Ninos make global temperatures go up, whether or not there's global warming. For the record, there IS global warming, so the combination of El Nino and climate change led to these worldwide heat records to be broken so spectacularly.

Climate change will keep happening, but El Nino might go away, at least for while. It always waxes and wanes.

A diminishing El Nino will allow the Earth's temperature to at least temporarily start easing back. Still, with global temperatures elevated from fossil fuel, don't expect a huge global cooldown.

Many climate observers are saying that we'll once again start getting months that are not the absolute warmest on record. Still well above normal, but not always record heat. This slight global cooling will probably start later this year and continue into 2017.

Of course, we can't be absolutely certain of that, but that's how it looks.

However, with climate change, you have to look at the long term trend, not one or two years. There was previously an enormous global temperature spike back in 1998 with a huge El Nino. Back then, we were told it was a glimpse of what the future might hold.

That future arrived, roughly after 2008. Temperatures between 2008 or so and 2013 were consistently close to the 1998 level.

Then, starting in 2014, global temperatures spiked again, peaking in 2015 and the first few months of this year it turns out.

Now we have another glimpse of the future. I've seen it where I live in St. Albans, Vermont. I know the little dot on the map where I live, St. Albans, is totally unrepresentative of the Earth as a whole.

However, I can't under play how bizarre the weather has been up here in northwestern Vermont over the past few months.

I wore shorts and a t-shirt outdoors all afternoon on Christmas Eve. In Vermont. In February, I dug up some soil to create new perennial bids. No snow, and the ground was totally not frozen. Unheard of in Vermont for February.

My daffodils and day lilies started coming up during the second week in March. Never seen that before either. But I've never seen the temperature reach 70 degrees in the beginning of March, either.

Will this past winter be a glimpse of what things will be like five, ten, fifteen years down the road? It's a distinct possibility.

So Cobb, the Georgia Tech climate scientist is right. We got a glimpse of our future and it's probably coming sooner than many of us think.

The cumulative effects of this mess is what really bothers me. Even as the global temperatures likely cool temporarily as we head toward 2017, world wide temperatures will almost certainly remain much higher than we were used to in the 20th century.

That leads to more climate extremes. We'll continue a trend of heat waves that kills thousands of people over the course of a month extreme droughts that cause many more deaths, or extreme storms that do the same, and on and on.

Meanwhile, the spike in global heat this winter also has policy makers questioning whether the world can adhere to the United Nation's goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celcius above 20th centry normals.

It this winter's warmth is a sign that global warming is accelerating, and even if not, policy makers with new analyses say we probably won't be able to cut our use of fossil fuel fast enough to keep the warming below 2 degree Celcius reports the Washington Post.

The Post says rewewable energy sources are increasing exponentially, but rising populations and living standards mean that fossil fuels will continue to be in high demand well into this century.

By the way, a bit of a feedback loop is probably contributing to this winter's high temperatures. The Arctic has had record low sea ice extent all winter. That means more heat is released into the atmosphere, keeping the extreme warmth going, especially in the Arctic.

That, in turn, means sea ice won't form like it normally does, and it will start to melt sooner, and that will lead to more relative warmth coming from the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere, etc. etc.

Yeah, as I said, it will cool down a bit soon because of natural factors. But the overall trend upward shows no sign of stopping or slowing over the long haul. Be prepared to continue seeing a new climate that you and I and the rest of the world are totally unaccustomed to.

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