When Average is the New Cold: Despite Hype From Climate Change Deniers, US Temps for January 2014 Were an Island of Average in a Near Record Hot World

By all accounts, weather during January of 2014 was freakish, extreme and odd. The eastern half of the US suffered from severe, though brief cold snaps along with a train of extreme weather stemming from two strong polar vortex collapse events. The western half of the US suffered from extended drought and unusual warmth as California, at the epicenter of dryness, found itself fighting major wildfires during winter.

Both sets of extremes were strongly influenced by a powerful high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that funneled warm, dry air into the Western US and stormy Arctic air into the Eastern States. A weather condition that, according to scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, stems from an ongoing build up of Arctic heat and a related erosion of northern polar sea ice.

Warm Air Invasion for Arctic Feb 24

(University of Washington model projection for Monday, February 24 shows strong west-coast blocking pattern with powerful warm air invasion of the Arctic and related countervailing trough over the US East Coast that has been the typical pattern since about April of 2013. A set of conditions persisting for 11 months that has led to extreme weather and climate events from Alaska to California to the East Coast. Image source: University of Washington.)

Meandering Jet Streams. Blocking patterns lasting 11 months. Cold air flushed out of the Arctic and into Canada and the Eastern US by warm air invasions. Related Polar Vortex collapses. Winter fires in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Norway. Such events are what the start of weather extremes caused by human-spurred climate change look like.

If you were to tell your neighborhood climate change denier such a thing, your words would have likely fallen on deaf ears. For if the winter weather in the Northeast, or anywhere for that matter, was extreme, so were the cries from various sources claiming that such weather was a clear repudiation of the titanic volume of scientific evidence now supporting an empirically obvious human-caused warming. The climate change denier’s eyes, ever and anon, were blind to excessive warmth in the west, over the Pacific Ocean and thrusting deep into the Arctic itself.

But despite the often shrill cries of climate change denial, evidence again leveled a crushing blow to the contrarian point of view.

For according to NASA and NOAA, global temperatures were again among the hottest on average for the month. NASA found that January was 2014 was the 3rd hottest on record, while the NOAA measure showed the month as 4th hottest.

NCDC January 2013 4th hottest

(Global temperature departures from the average. Image source: NOAA/NCDC.)

In the most recent NOAA assessment, we see large areas of hottest ever temperatures ranging from Brazil, the South Atlantic, South Africa, the Western Pacific north and east of Australia and New Guinea, the North-Central Atlantic, the southern tip of Greenland, and the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska. Cooler than average regions were relegated to the Eastern US, the North Atlantic south of Greenland, north-central Siberia, and areas of the southern ocean south of Cape Horn and New Zealand.

It is worth noting that no regions of the globe showed record coldest readings despite small zones in the eastern US that experienced 8th and 12th coldest years on record. But despite these isolated cool zones, ever the fodder for climate change denial cherry picking, the global balance tipped heavily toward heat.

Moving on to the Continental US, we can clearly see from NOAA’s assessment that:

The average temperature for the contiguous United States during January was 30.3°F, or 0.1°F below the 20th century average. The January 2014 temperature ranked near the middle of the 120-year period of record, and was the coldest January since 2011. Despite some of the coldest Arctic air outbreaks to impact the East in several years, no state had their coldest January on record.

So despite the hype and a number of cold Arctic air outbursts, average temperatures for the contiguous US were merely average — one of the few average temperature zones in a near record-hot world. That these overall average readings would seem cold to us now is a clear sign that we are growing all too used to above average warmth and heat.




University of Washington

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  1. Is the title supposed to be “an island?”

  2. Robert, I’m a newbie on your blog. I’ve only been reading it for the past two weeks. But what I read here, both in your posts and from the graphs, honestly terrifies me. I have two questions… What can I do about any of this, and why don’t we ever see it reported in the news?

    • Hello Vardarac and thanks so much for dropping in. I think it’s very important that many of us do as much as possible now to reduce the amount of harm that is coming. It’s terrifying to just sit and watch. But it can be very liberating and enlightening to begin taking effective action.

      We need a rapid shift in they way people act toward, think and feel about the natural world. We need to think and act in a way that makes us more partners to the vital living system of nature and less usurpers and conquerors. In working for this change, we can support policies to reduce the long-term harm that is coming down the pipe all while we work on making our individual behavior less harmful and more supportive of living systems in general. To do that, we need to overwhelm a number of very powerful industry related special interests. We can do this through a combination of actions:

      1. Individual choice:

      Reduce fossil fuel consumption as much as possible
      Increase renewable energy consumption whenever possible (solar panels, renewable energy through utilities, electric vehicles and a solar garage, etc)
      Reduce meat consumption from factory farms as much as possible (reducing meat consumption in general lowers ghg emissions from agriculture while also reducing the need to clear forests for more agricultural land)
      Remove all investments from fossil fuel industry
      Remove all investments from large factory farms and related destructive entities such as Monsanto
      Increase individual energy efficiency as much as possible
      Support local, small farms, poly and permaculture farming as much as possible
      Support edible landscaping
      Grow a family garden
      Adopt an endangered species to defend and support
      Use low, zero carbon transport as much as possible
      Consider limiting children to two or less
      Reduce chemical use as much as possible (especially materials that go down the drain)
      Increase low-impact biological materials for common purposes use as much as possible

      2. Community, government and social action

      Consider advocating solar panels for your church/temple/mosque and religious community members
      Support family planning and individual reproductive choice for women
      Vote for political candidates that aren’t climate change deniers
      Vote against candidates with a fossil fuel agenda (oil, coal, gas)
      Vote for candidates that criticize factory farming and support more resilient localized farms and polyculture efforts
      Vote for candidates that support a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and increased efficiency standards
      Vote for candidates with a sustainability agenda
      Vote for candidates who are critical of the pure capitalist model of endlessly increasing consumption, concentrating wealth at the top, and who support quality of life, sustainability, compassion towards humans and animals and life support/conservation and protection based policy measures.
      Leverage religious/spiritual communities to support these efforts
      Vote for candidates who are critical of the current globalized system of trade that maximizes harm by creating numerous dangerous externalities.
      Support candidates that seek to provide incentives for rapid adoption of renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, reducing carbon footprints through broader industry, and expanded non-meat options for broader markets.
      Support candidates who aggressively pursue global treaties to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.
      Support organizations like which actively fight against new fossil fuel expansions (coal, tar sands etc)
      Consider organizing a local action group that supports these and other efforts

      Just a few. But it’s a good start.

  3. Mark Archambault

     /  February 21, 2014

    Great article Robert. This is a good one to send around to skeptics or those not paying that much attention to the global outlook on climate change.

    Part of the denial is perhaps based on our evolutionary hardwiring to pay much more attention to what’s in front of us (the lion in the grass) than events far removed, which, for 99% of humanity’s existence as hunter-gatherers, were not a concern. Global warming seems to be the ultimate pass/fail test for our supposedly intelligent species. Will we graduate and create a truly sustainable civilization, or collapse along with the ecosystems that sustain us?

    • We can’t really wait until climate change is right in front of us, as it were. By that point, as CCG says, the train has already left the station. We are in the beginning of the time of near misses. And that can actually cause a degree of overconfidence. After that time, things start to get really difficult.

      • Mark Archambault

         /  February 21, 2014

        Yes, absolutely. This crisis demands we act strongly before knowing with 100% certainty how it may play out. And that requires critical thinking by a majority of citizens, especially those in the ‘developed’ world. If that recent poll is correct and 1/4 of US citizens don’t know the Earth revolves the Sun, well, we may not act in time!

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        I keep seeing this 25% of US citizens don’t know the earth revolves around the sun meme. While it surely demonstrates lack of scientific literacy, I would point out that historical development of this “fact” is much more insightful than despairing.

        Specifically, truth is contextual based on degree of understanding. It is perfectly reasonable and intuitive to believe in geocentricism and you can do a ton of worthwhile calculations assuming this. People did for thousands of years (whether the calculations were formal or not is unimportant). The only reason why heliocentrism arose as a theory is that observations were gathered about planetary orbits that were very difficult to fit into a geocentric theory but worked out quite nicely with heliocentrism. Suddenly, a whole host of calculations were made accessible and we were able to predict all sorts of things, including precession and the like. Thus, it was “proven” that the earth revolves around the sun.

        Yet the General Theory of Relativity discounts the idea of inertial reference frames entirely. Once more, the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun! But it’s not geocentrism either, since it is saying in actuality they revolve around each other in terms of reference frames. This theory has opened up advancement even further and enables GPS, cosmology and the like.

        My point is that whether the earth revolves around the sun or not is a matter of a framework and each framework has ability to answer some questions easily while other questions are difficult or impossible.

        This is not an academic point. The world needs to restructure much more immensely and much faster than any time in history or we are going to be in a world of pain. It’s not just a matter of facts because we cannot wait until there is sensory oriented proof. The biggest challenge is not technical or even political, it is psychological. The framework must get more people excited/strong than there are people who are scared.

        Many “facts” that intelligent people know are based on our current societal setup and are only useful in our current purpose. Denying a fact that is true now but not in how things can be is not useful. For example, it is a fact that we cannot have our society run on 100% intermittent renewable energy. To pretend otherwise is extreme denial. The entrenched interests are taking this fact to the bank and us to our grave. If we have want to have a shot, it’s not enough to talk about how we “should just” move to renewables, we need to create a new reference frame in which we can live on renewables.

        In other words, knowledge will not move society to action. There must be a revolution of thought that reframes possibility in a universal fashion, just as Relativity got rid of the notion of centrism and gravity as special concepts and reworked them into general principles of acceleration across reference frames.

        • I’m wondering who this 25 percent is. Certainly no one I know. Don’t understand the point if this meme generation.

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        IMO, since liberal causes are largely built around the idea that social movements are to cause government policy shifts, then they fixate on getting 50%+1. This causes a cycle of despondency/condescending towards the parts of the populace that are “preventing” this from happening.

        So stuff like that reporting stating 25% don’t know the earth revolves around the sun fits perfectly into this cycle because it’s such a good soundbite in how difficult it is to argue based on science.

        • Fair enough. But I’ve never had an argument with a heliocentricity denier. Maybe it’s due to the fact that there’s no profit in a media campaign to misinform about the relative locations of sun and Earth 😉

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        Ugh, look at this

        On the other hand, it is a huge sign of progress. They see the writing on the wall about migration and are desperately pointing to “in every way but ours.”

        • Wow. How misinformed can they be? Negative solar forcing will never exceed .3 watts per meter squared. So no grand solar minimum to the rescue and no new period of cooling.

          Yet one more wave in the misinformation and nonsense campaign… I’m getting very tired of the endless circulation of this crud. I’m betting ‘international science coalition’s’ Tom Harris is funded by fossil fuel dollars. I think I saw him in the DeSmogblog denier database…

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        Yeah in the comments, people point to it being attached to Koch. It’s quite interesting though — British media is filled with calls for radical social change in order to mitigate flooding. They are actually talking about disallowing bare ground overwinter and preventing building on flood plains. Perhaps even reintroducing wetlands!

        I guess the rooms where they devise strategy have realized that action is inevitable — hence the reframing that a massive amount of energy will be needed to do so.

        • Ah, no surprise there. The Kochs fund all sorts of this type of misinformation.

          RE British response plans… I wouldn’t call it radical unless they were calling for zero carbon emissions. Adaptation is running on a treadmill to outrace a T-Rex. i. e. Swiftly ineffective. The sea levels will rise, the storms will strengthen, and new flood zones will emerge.

          Reintroducing wetlands is nice. Though the stable coastlines that support such are swiftly becoming a relic of the past.

  4. I wonder when that “Ice Age” deniers bring up will come.

    • Never so long as humans roam the Earth. We’ve already pumped enough carbon into the atmosphere and climate system to back an ice age off for tens of thousands and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of years.

      • The whole “ice age is coming” debate –

        I would point out it makes no difference how much snow falls in winter, or it’s cold. Glaciers cannot advance unless the summers cool off, and the winter snows don’t melt completely away in summer. Then, and only then do glaciers advance.

        • True. And how can you end up with an ice age when most of the excess heat goes directly to the Arctic?

          Sure, we’ll end up with localized cooling when Greenland starts going down. But that will only be enough to wreck the weather. And it’s a direct result of accelerated mass loss.

  5. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    Hey eastern U.S. residents and climate change deniers, pull your head out of your ass and open your eyes! GLOBALLY, JANUARY 2014 WAS THE 3RD HOTTEST ON RECORD!

  6. New paper by Wasdell: world headed for 10°C degree rise…

    Executive Summary

    Let us first summarise the analysis of the basis for a carbon budget embedded in the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC AR5 WG1:

    * The adoption of a transient temperature response to cumulative carbon emissions, instead of the full equilibrium impact, allows a higher carbon output before the critical 2°C target is breached. No reference to the substitution is made in the text of the SPM.

    * Treating the relationship between temperature response and cumulative carbon emissionsas a linear, straight-line function also inflates the available carbon budget by some 10 years’ worth of emissions at the current rate.

    * Removal of all visual representation of the current value of the cumulative carbon emissions, reduces the clarity of the present situation.

    * Failure to link the total cumulative carbon emissions to the equivalent concentration of the airborne concentration of CO2 adds to the obfuscation of the presentation.

    * Limiting the extent of climatic response to the fast feedback (transient or ‘€œCharney’€) dynamics masks dependency on the function of climate sensitivity. This hides uncertainty in the modelling ensemble at the expense of portraying a grossly underestimated temperature response and a massively inflated carbon budget.

    Secondly we note the consequences of applying a robust value for the Earth System Sensitivity:

    * The temperature response to the proposed ceiling of allowed carbon emissions is 5.4°C, not the 2°C indicated in the SPM.

    * The temperature response to the current set of emission-reduction pledges is c. 10°C, not c. 4°C as indicated in the SPM.

    * The temperature response to which we are already committed at the present level of cumulative carbon emission is 3.9°C (+ effect of non-CO2 GHG emissions) not 1.5°C implied in the SPM

    * The budget of c. 300GtC of available carbon emission before breaching the 2°C policy target is seen to be an illusion. In reality the carbon account is already overdrawn by c.288GtC.

    * All the above figures should be treated as conservative underestimates as we move from the stable conditions of the Holocene into the far-from-equilibrium, rapid change and enhanced sensitivity of the Anthropocene.

    * Recognition of the sensitivity of global climate dynamics to small changes in average surface temperature implies that the degree of safety assumed in the policy target of limiting increase to no more than 2°C above the pre-industrial value, is a delusion.

    * Avoiding dangerous climate change is no longer possible. Limiting its intensity requires restriction of the target temperature increase to no more than 1°C.

    * Achieving that goal requires reduction in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses to around 310 ppm of CO2e (from the current value of some 450 ppm CO2e).

    On these grounds the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC AR5 WG1 should be rejected as not fit for the purpose of policy-making. It is a compromise between what is scientifically necessary and what is deemed to be politically and economically feasible. It is a document of appeasement, in active collusion with the global addiction to fossil sources of energy.

    • Mark Archambault

       /  February 21, 2014

      10 degrees C of warming would bring about a mass extinction at least on the level of the Permian. I hope he’s wrong!

      • About 9 C, long term, is what we get from 800-1000 ppm CO2, which is where worst case fossil fuel emissions bring us by the end of this century.

        The range of 5-9 C is based on final emissions bringing CO2 levels to between 500-1000 ppm and related Earth System responses. Since it appears the IPCC is building a case to allow emissions to approach 500 ppm and since business leaders are pushing for far more than even the very weak and dangerous IPCC limits, the most likely scenario now is for 5-9 C long-term warming with some human response built in (9 being little response, 5 being some but not enough).

        10 C leans very heavily toward the worst case and, as such, probably overshoots a bit. That said, IPCC has been far too conservative.

      • If memory serves past paleoclimates go as high as 2000pm or +16C vs current levels, so no – you’re not necessarily into end Permian territory (though rate of change is a big concern).

        That’s the one saving grace in the end – and why all the people running around flapping about human extinction are likely wrong – you have to double carbon dioxide every time you want a linear increment of warming and to get the really high temperatures requires truly astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide. I think there’s a Hansen paper or article out there that explains he didn’t literally mean the Venus comments (for the current state of the sun, obviously the sun gets hotter over time).

        • Not seeing good proxies for end Permian at + 16 C. Also, the sun was cooler then. We probably end up with +12 C long term at 1200 ppm CO2 after all feedbacks and under current solar insolation.

          Given ocean chemistry changes, mass extinction in the oceans is all but certain if we hit 500 to 550 ppm this century. Given the pace of change, land mass extinction from climate is probably underway at that point as well (arguably underway now due to a combination of human factors). A level of around 800-1000 locks in very bad and long-lasting results, probably getting us to a Canfield Ocean or at least a very nasty stratified ocean.

          There are two issues — pace of change and an environment that is already reeling from numerous other human insults. These make the problem far worse than it would otherwise be.

          Avoiding such bad outcomes involves cessation of ghg emissions. And we can and should choose to do this.

        • I think I’m getting the idea of +16C from a Hansen paper – and in error about it being linkable to paleoclimate per se. His premise is the complete use of fossil fuels (seems unrealistic to me given rate of change already) but one still has to consider the ultimate scope of natural feedbacks that aren’t included as fossil fuel sourced carbon.

          The paper in question is:

          A few snippets:
          (e) – “Our calculated global warming in this case is 16◦C, with warming at the poles approximately
          (e) – “The Earth was 10–12◦C warmer than today in the Early Eocene and at the peak of the PETM (figure 4). How did mammals survive that warmth?”

        • The hottest average temps from comprehensive assessment/simulation (not just spot values) I’m getting for the Permian are around 25.5 to 26 C globally — about 11 C hotter than today or about 12 C hotter than 1880s values. We see full Canfield Oceans emerging at around 23-26 C and widely stratified Oceans emerging at around 18-21 C.

          The Permian CO2 level at around 1800 ppm is roughly equal to a value of around 1200 ppm today when you take the change in solar radiance into account. By contrast, a level of about 800-1000 ppm probably gets us to a PETM type event (final value after all feedbacks, not initial human forcing).

          Current ghg emissions probably locks us in to 16 to 17.9 C long-term and may kick world CO2 and methane slightly higher (I’m thinking the Earth Sensitivity is higher than expected given the constant stream of grim data flowing in). GHG emissions to mid century put us around 500 to 550 ppm initial human forcing and probably around 50-100 ppm feedback and around 18 to 20 C long term. End century at 800-1000 ppm (human contribution plus some feedbacks) probably results in very close to PETM levels at 22-23+ C long term.

          David W. is closer to being right if we hit near or above 1000 ppm by end century or early 2100s. Then 10+C and a full Permian type event may well be in the cards.

          As far as mass extinction goes… We’ve already had a major extinction in amphibians (likely caused by human disease vectoring through mass transport) and we are already seeing very high background extinction rates. Major ocean stresses, heat stress, acidification and expanding anoxic zones are already a major problem. By mid century a majority of the corals go down and we get a huge extinction pulse from that (500 to 550 ppm CO2). By end century, ocean acidification is at 7.8 ph (BAU) which is enough to kill off about 1/3 of species there. This does not include the added impacts of ocean anoxic zones which will be far more widespread and expanding zones of H2S production along with a rising Chemocline. So BAU might have killed off as much as half of ocean species by 2100. So, unless we get a serious grip on fossil fuel emissions, many of us will live to see the ocean extinction begin to rapidly ramp up.

          Rapid pace of acidification is a uniquely human impact. Our pace of ghg emission is without equal or corollary. But we don’t really know how much more dangerous the rapid pace of stratification is. It took 60,000 years for the Permian to fully elapse and hundreds of thousands of years for the temperature to rise and ocean chemistry systems to start to go haywire. We’re doing the same thing in little more than 250 years (BAU). So if we actually kick this wretched thing of in so short a period, we could rationally expect it to be worse.

          MacPherson is jumping the gun by about 35 to 85 years. But if we don’t change behavior, the odds of humankind making it through grow ever longer. Many, many other species will have no chance at all.

          Last thoughts on extinctions related to human action and I will stop…

          The 6th extinction book is worth reading as it shows how powerful humans are and how much impact we have on environments. It reminds us that we’ve been driving species extinct since the very start, when we killed off megafauna and when we wiped out Neanderthal. Our capacity for conquest and dominance is the extinction mechanism. And, in the current age, this capacity is writ large in fossil fuel use and how exploitation of that resource is used to dominate environments, fellow human beings, and economic systems. It is not the only disruptive impact, but it is by far the most dangerous.

          We would be better off facing an asteroid. Recovery from such an event would take, at most, 3 million years. Recovery from a Permian type event, which we appear to be setting up now, will take up to ten times as long.

          From the human perspective, both are mind boggling time scales. But it is worth noting that we are now in the initial stages of setting up what is probably the worst geological event in Earth’s history. We are mad if we don’t stop it as soon as possible.

        • I think it’s fair to say that in all probability the damage we do now is going to be relevant for the rest of human history. Our species isn’t even 3 million years old – and will be gone by the time conditions change (either by having gone to extinction or by evolution).

          We were mad not to have changed decades ago.

          Incidentally I suspect the timescales for the past events are somewhat up for grabs – I recall seeing a document about the end Permian that decided there was multiple stages – the fastest of which was well under 60,000 years (the release of methane clathrates in response to the initial slower warming thought to be from the siberian traps).

          With respect to the PETM – there’s this paper – which seemed to come to the incredible conclusion that a massive amount of carbon was added almost instantaneously.

          Whether or not it will be supported by other findings, I don’t know. In some senses using global average temperature change is the wrong question anyway – as local effects over large regions can definitely happen much faster (and be just as harmful from the human perspective).

        • What I find amazing about the hypothesized large methane release during the PETM is that ocean methane stores would have been far more depleted than they are today. The world was already warm before the PETM and many of the carbon stores would have already bled off over time.

          What we have today is a system that is fully loaded with carbon. We have carbon stores in massive equatorial forests that will burn and decay under warming. We have the tundra stores that will thaw, decay, burn and turn into methane. We have the shallow ocean stores in the Arctic, We have the deeper ocean stores all around the globe.

          The state is far more similar to that of the Permian than the PETM in that we have all these large natural carbon stores that are getting nudged closer and closer to wakening and release.

          The Permian, according to current research probably had at least two major events: Wong. Ward shows three in his research.

          So what the paper above makes me ask is were the periods of rapid extinction set off by these near-instant carbon releases? And, if so, how close are we to setting off such a release now?

          Ward/Shakhova et al seem to think we are very close to a large sea-based release. While the modelers who got sea ice melt rates wrong seem to think such a potential large release is more remote. These same modelers readily admit that the tundra melt/compost bomb scenario is entirely viable. I’m not generally comforted by this conjecture. I think Culvier was correct, in essence, and that the more modern scientists like Alvarez and Ward are certainly seeing clearly. Geology shows long periods of placidity and very brief and sudden periods of panic. We are in or close to one of those periods now.

          In any case, you’re right. We were certainly insane not to have done something about this 30 years ago.

        • Incidentally I think this is the nearest thing to a proxy for end Permian temperatures – but in terms of Sea Surface Temperatures using something to do with oxygen isotopes.

          SSTs of 40C or more compared to those today is an awful lot warmer – this paper is used as the basis of some articles out there that also quote 25-30C as the current equatorial SST average. One has to wonder if +16C wouldn’t be within possibility for surface temperatures overall at that time? (as the oceans tend to warm less than the land, and the poles tend to warm more than the equator)

        • The best proxies I see for global averages point to a range of 24-26 C. Departures at the poles are much larger.

        • Proxy data + NCAR modeling:

          Results are 25-26 C global average.

          Proxy data + CCMS modeling:

          Results are 23.5 C global average.

          Digging deeper, I see indirect observational values ranging from +6 C to +18 C throughout the research and I see CO2 levels ranging from 1500 to 3300 ppm (depending on the methane portion).

          I tend to trust the NCAR model results more in any case as they appear to be the most accurate in general global climate simulation.

        • Thanks for those links, pretty sure I haven’t seen them before.

        • Mostly pretty complex model assessments.

          I’ve written off some letters given the questions you’ve raised. I want to see if there’s a clearer picture of Permian temps out there.

          Related to your article post:

          Apparently the anoxic bottom and hot surface put a severe squeeze on ocean life during the Permian. Interesting information related to H2S (sourcing this for a project I’m working on now).

        • Debt’s definitely a big factor here, as well as dependence. Apparently, they’re also exporting a good portion of their food excess:

          It’s worth noting that the FAO for early February is 203.4. Still very high. Many theorize the global threshold for conflict is around 210. We hit 229 in 2011. In January, we saw readings over 212.

    • Paleoclimate shows full Earth Systems response to 560 ppm CO 2 is 5-6 C. They’re living in an inaccurate model simulation if they believe that 560 ppm equals only 3 C additional warming.

      Just using paleoclimate CO2 temperature proxies we end up with 2-3 C warming at current CO2 values near 400 ppm. Other ghg forcing, should it remain at current levels probably accounts for another .6 to .9 C warming. So we probably have at least 2 C already locked in and, more likely, see the range of increase from current emissions at 2.6 to 3.9 now (long term).

      David’s number is on the high end but is more realistic than the IPCC which shows 1 to 1.5 C from current emissions and 3 C at 560 ppm CO2.

  7. Mark Archambault

     /  February 21, 2014

    Thanks Robert. But as even 4 C of warming is devastating, according to the recent report funded by the World Bank (of all organizations!) – it’s going to be a wild and interesting ride for the people of Earth this century and in the centuries to come.

    “Soylent Green – it’s what’s for dinner in 2060”. How will people alive then look upon us?

    • We’re sitting at .8 C higher than 1880 now.

      We probably hit 1 C to 1.2 C by 2020. By 2030, we’re probably looking at between 1.2 and 1.7. In this period, conditions will start to rapidly deteriorate. We’ll be seeing much larger carbon releases from the Arctic and we’ll probably be seeing ice free conditions in the Arctic Ocean during late summers. Greenland, losing its heat insulator, will start to pulse large melt volumes.

      By 2050 we’re probably looking at between +1.6 and +3 C depending on whether or not we mitigated, rate of ice sheet melt, and rate of Arctic carbon release. Severe weather related emergencies at this time are in very high gear and we may have seen as much as 1 meter of sea level rise.

  8. “The amount of ice being lost from Pine Island glacier is equivalent to every person on our planet pouring 10 pints of water (4.7L) into the ocean every day,” Professor Andrew Shepherd, an expert at the University of Leeds who was not involved in the study, told Reuters. “That’s the last thing our flood defences need right now.”

    • The PIG –

      10 pints of water (4.7L) into the ocean every day, times 7 billion .

      Now that’s a number. Here’s hoping Prof Shepherd comes up with the same analogy from the Greenland ice sheet.

  9. RS –
    Nice series of posts , other’s are starting to linking your stuff . Keep up the grim work.

    The whole silly warming pause, warming hiatus thing: Bumps and Wiggles (9)

  10. Flooding Worst in Modern Records for Southern England.

    U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has described the recent flooding in southern England as “biblical” following the wettest December-January period on record. The Thames River has been flowing at its highest level for longer than any period since 1883 according to news sources.

  11. The Ilısu Dam is also expected to reduce the flow of the Tigris into Syria and Iraq,

    This would be the key part in this story. :

    New Dam in Turkey Threatens to Flood Ancient City and Archaeological Sites

    Tigris River Dam puts wildlife and culture at risk, critics say.

    The dam joins a list of massive river-blockers that have submerged historic homes and cultural sites worldwide in the last century. During the 1950s, construction of Egypt’s Aswan Dam to control the flooding of the Nile led to resettlements and the removal of monuments such as a massive statue of Ramses the Great. China’s Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, completed in 2012, caused the relocation of 1.2 million people and the flooding of hundreds of archaeological sites. Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam, now under construction, has triggered protests from indigenous people over its planned flooding of 250 square miles (400 square kilometers) of rain forest.

    The Ilısu Dam is also expected to reduce the flow of the Tigris into Syria and Iraq, possibly exacerbating a six-year drought that has crippled agriculture in southern Iraq, said Kılıç. Upstream, the reservoir will inundate 300 historical sites and displace more than 25,000 people in Turkish towns along the Tigris, he added.

  12. And if I lived in Syria and Iraq, would I cross the border and blow that dam up ?

    Water is the key in 21st century everything else pales .

    • I’m thinking there’s a brief future in desalination.

      River = rival.

      Humans have a long history of conflict over water. And I think you’ve got it right. It will probably be an increasingly contentious issue as time moves forward.

  13. Robert –
    If you were from Syria , you would help me, If I was from Syria I would attack the Turkish dams. Then war expands

    • Absolutely. Similar trouble brewing RE the Nile. One of the reasons Egypt is in such dire straits.

    • Robert –
      If I believe in war , I want the entire population to crash and burn tonight.

    • Speaking of war – anyone find the current outbreaks of civil unrest in various places interesting? They’re occurring with greater frequency than I expected at this point – and do not auger well for the results of a food price spike later this year if the weather is not as harvest friendly to us as last year.

      • How many hot spots are you looking at?

        • Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand and Bosnia. Granted, some of those have had issues that have been going on for a while – it just seems there’s more of it and that bit uglier than previously, perhaps just a false impression though – I don’t have anything quantitative.

          I do wonder though, if people are already that close to the threshold in so many places – potentially how much more effect a rise in food prices would turn out to have?

        • The Ukraine crisis appears to be spurred by internal corruption and the ongoing push-pull between East and West. I’m not seeing major resource crisis as yet for this country. Perhaps I’m missing something?

        • The main resource of interest there isn’t one that is used in Ukraine so much as transits the country – oil and gas pipelines from Russia. That makes Ukraine rather important for both Europe and Russia (as buyer and seller). As I understand it Ukraine is near to debt and if the results of that followed typical patterns, they would become more vulnerable to high global food prices (through reduced purchasing power). The main point of interest though is the dependency on them on both sides (east and west).

        • I thought this was vaguely entertaining and yet somewhat insightful regarding Ukraine. I know it isn’t a climate change linked event per se – but it’s still part of the global background in a world with diminishing resources and scope for rapidly intensifying competition for them.

          And climate change doesn’t exist in a vacuum…

          That’s one of the flaws of leaning too heavily on the scientific studies that look at the (inaccurate) models and predict drops in crop production over the next two decades due to climate change. Resource constraints and conflict also can reduce crop production and have their own little feedback system at work in our future. Where are they in the climate models? Like many of the positive feedbacks at the scary end of the spectrum, they simply aren’t there.

  14. Phil

     /  February 22, 2014

    Might be a little off topic but I see another continuation of the debate between Professors Francis and Trenberth on the potential role of arctic amplification, jetstream meandering and the severe weather in the northern hemisphere has recently emerged. The ‘moderator’ was Chris Mooney, Inspiring Minds, Mother Jones – 21 February.

    Will be interesting to see how that debate evolves given that arctic amplification/jet stream link possibility really only gained some focus since 2007 and thus a relatively short time horizon to undertake statistical analysis.

    Also do not know how much confidence should be placed in verification being linked to replication by climate models – afterall, climate models have not had a very successful track record of capturing the extent of sea ice loss in the arctic as seen on the various ipcc reports with many still seeing sea ice out to 2050. Note sure if Trenberth’s NCAR models are in this class.

    My background is economics and academically, quite often fact or observation do not or are not let get in the way of theoretical models. To often, if the observations do not support the theory or model, than it is problems with observations or the way they are collected or processed and not with the theoretical model.

    I would hope a similar situation does not eventuate in climate science modelling. As mentioned by Robert in a earlier post, some elements of this seem to percolate in the issue of methane emissions in the arctic while the other relates to the history of modelling arctic sea ice loss as covered in various ipcc reports.

    From the end of current climate reanalyser run, looks like the USA is going to be hit hard by another severe cold spell – is this the polar vortex (or part therof) revisiting?. The other twin part seems to be over Siberia. Most of the arctic has positive temperature anomolies over the same period. Did the two halves of ther polar vortex ever get back together after being split or is this the typically pattern for the arctic?

    • Francis, in my view, has already been at least partly validated in observation. We were able to predict extreme events this winter based on her findings. I’m thinking the models have certain limitations and are unable to capture all the unique expressions of climate change that are likely to emerge. This is not, in any way, to disparage Trenberth’s amazing contributions. I just think he’s having a bit of an ‘Oh my God’ moment here. Entirely human. Happens to us all.

  15. Tom

     /  February 22, 2014

    Thanks for the great post Robert! I especially enjoy the comments from those attracted to this site – informative, interesting and welcome (to me anyway).

    I’ve recently heard about a “March miracle” expected to produce some rain in CA. That would be helpful for the moment, though the longer term looks grim. It has already been decided that no water for irrigation will be provided to farmers. Uh-oh.

    There was a tornado in Illinois last Thursday (yeah, in winter now)!

    The “fire season” has already started in Arizona and New Mexico, when it used to begin in May.

    It’ll get close to 60 degrees F here in s.e. PA today as we’ve been experiencing a 4 day warming spell. This is helping to melt the prodigious snow that’s piled up over the past 2 months of storms. We go right back to the very cold next week though.
    Climate change: Unstable Atlantic deep ocean circulation may hasten ‘tipping point’

    Date: February 20, 2014
    Source: University of Bergen

    A new study looking at past climate change asks if these changes in the future will be spasmodic and abrupt rather than a more gradual increase in the temperature. Today, deep waters formed in the northern North Atlantic fill approximately half of the deep ocean globally. In the process, this helps moderate the effects of global warming. Changes in this circulation mode are considered a potential tipping point in future climate change that could have widespread and long-lasting impacts. Until now, this pattern of circulation has been considered relatively stable during warm climate states such as those projected for the end of the century. A new study suggests that Atlantic deep water formation may be much more fragile than previously realized.

  16. islandraider

     /  February 22, 2014

    In reference to the above discussion regarding water:
    All wars are resource wars. As water & food get more scarce, there will be more violence.

    Article below links food prices to unrest. Good overview.

    The Math That Predicted the Revolutions Sweeping the Globe Right Now

    Quote: “It’s happening in Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, and beyond. Revolutions, unrest, and riots are sweeping the globe. The near-simultaneous eruption of violent protest can seem random and chaotic; inevitable symptoms of an unstable world. But there’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices.”

    • It’s worth noting that the FAO food price index spiked in 2011 at 229 and has since been falling overall. We did see some spikes in January, as the article noted, to weekly values above 210. But we have since fallen a bit lower in February to 203.4.

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        Yes but both peak oil and peak food needs to be assessed in the same context as melting of snow/ice. Looking at instantaneous prices is less insightful than the integration of the price over time above a critical threshold.

        In 2008, oil spiked to 40% greater than it is now, but it was only above $90 for 1 year. Now it’s been above that for nearly 5 years. $90 is commensurate with a %GDP drag that historically leads to recession. We’re only avoiding technical recession because of massive monetary stimulus, but high energy prices are exacerbating inequality and hollowing out the middle class.

        Similarly with food, the spike in 2011 led to quite a bit of unrest (definitely a factor in Arab spring) but several governments that are having issues now such as Argentina, Ukraine, Thailand and Venezuela were able to release emergency funding to cover the gap. Now they are running out of bullets and it is contributing to currency instability/social unrest.

        • All too true.

          I’d thought Ukraine would be OK given its relative position as a food exporter. But given its international ties, government corruption, and debt it appears to have less leverage over its resources. This situation was bound to contribute to unrest as the populace would inevitably, and probably, rightly feel betrayed.

          Worth noting that expensive oil production continues to expand at a very rapid rate in the US. We’re at 7.44 mbpd crude now and 11 mbpd all oil/gas based liquids including refinery gain.

          They are bound and determined to run the machine on oil or break it. And this comes to me as the height of insanity. The fuels aren’t so economically valuable any more. They don’t really create a bridge rather than undermine it. But the regimes seem too calcified and set in old paradigms to realize what’s going on. The of course you have about a million paid oil, gas and coal cheer leaders out there muddying the water.

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        From that link, notice that the countries in each phase are moving up the ladder in development. In 2008 the countries that had unrest are extremely poor with little governance at all (other than India but they have constant issues due to population size), whereas in 2011 the countries that had issues have decent amounts of wealth but poor governance that set up welfare states to maintain power, while now we are looking at countries that historically have been unstable but have reasonably high levels of development and robust governance.

        • It’s worth noting that this is still sporadic and not yet widespread. Am wondering how much the ongoing droughts will stress the system further this summer. We had better hope the US blocking pattern does not bulge out of the the continent as it did in 2012.

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        Argentina and Ukraine in particular show the insanity of globalization. Both countries have strong infrastructure and primary production, but focused on exports to get fossil fuels. They ran out of foreign reserves and things quickly collapsed.

        Venezuela/The Middle East is on the other side of the equation of course, insanity of very low primary production that is only possible because of petroleum and globalization.

        What you state would indeed be terrifying. California is already written off for the year and taking out the midwest too would lead to enormous stress even in industrialized countries. Of course it’ll only be 10-20 years until this is a relatively typical year…

        • The storm zone around Greenland will fight a long and losing battle to the heat emerging from the lower latitudes. Middle parts of the country will flicker between drought and major storm events. El Nino would remove some of the drought pressure. But overall trend is for the productive zone to retreat north and east.

          I don’t know if this scenario is viable at this time. Perhaps only if we see La Nina/ENSO neutral continue.

          The stress appears to be hitting the weak links hardest. As you mention, the higher tier countries are at a disadvantage in the, still mostly zero sum, international game. They have their debts and their obligations that keep them from having the resources they need.

          But it’s even more stark for the other side.

          For my part, I still think it’s the age of near misses. The countries will scrape by for now but be less resilient for the next crisis unless they enact massive and comprehensive changes to how they do business.

          As for the Middle East. I feel sorry for anyone who lives there. They are about as far out on a limb as one can get. Those regions can’t support the kinds of populations they have unless they build what is the Earth equivalent of a sustainable moon colony. They depend on globalization and their excess oil wealth to survive. What will they trade when the oil market dries up? Or, if it doesn’t dry up due to rising awareness of the climate trouble its causing, how will they deal with the inevitable peak in their own supplies?

      • mikkel

         /  February 22, 2014

        One note on Ukraine. Much of their problem is surrounding natural gas imports. Of course Moscow uses it as a geopolitical tool/oligarchs on both sides make off like bandits, but it also means that they own Ukraine. Actually they own most of Europe and the pipelines go through Ukraine.

        It’ll be interesting to see what happens, since Russia can just turn off the pipes and cause widespread misery. This may provide a good overlap for convincing Europe to focus first and foremost on solutions that reduce climate change but will immediately improve their geopolitical position.

        Unfortunately, there is increased rumbling in Eastern Europe about getting out of Russia’s grasp by expanding coal production on a massive level.

  17. james cole

     /  February 23, 2014

    The main point I see in honest denial, as versus paid denial, is the inability to understand that a normal cyclical system can be influenced by an outside forcing. We hear over and over again that climate always changes, so what’s the big deal. Well, I try and inform such people that the normal cycles are real and always at work, yet we can put our imprint on those cycles by burning fossil fuels. I can’t tell you how many people can not understand a natural cycle and an unnatural outside contribution that can force climate into a non-cyclical direction. It may just be willful ignorance, this is common enough. Still, finding a way to admit the normal cycles drive climate, and the human forcing is what we speak of when we say global warming. No matter, I point out to some people that ships now use the Northwest passage, which is not something in the human experience till now, they just claim it is natural. The sun, that is the deniers fall back position, a well prepared trench into which they can jump whenever the heat is really put on them. They refuse to believe humans can do enough damage via CO2 to over come natural cycles. Most is really willful ignorance I fear.

    • I think a lot of people are in denial because it allows them a sense of personal agency and group identity. Not being in denial can easily be a terribly lonely place.

      I personally feel like I’m living in a cross between something by H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. I am surrounded by happy deluded miners. Who’s having more fun?

    • Mark Archambault

       /  February 23, 2014

      Very well said James.

  1. When Average is the New Cold: Despite Hype From Climate Change Deniers, US Temps for January 2014 Were an Island of Average in a Near Record Hot World | The Secular Jurist

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