The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records. — Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the global scientific community is reeling. Sure, the various scientists and researchers knew that a massive accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans was beginning to take a serious toll. They knew that ocean heat content in the top 2,000 meters of the world ocean system (accounting for 93 percent of Earth System warming) was going through the roof. And they knew that this warmth was going to bleed out in a seriously big and bad way as a record El Nino swept through the global climate system during 2014, 2015 and 2016.
(Temperature averages for 2016 are so far about 1.22 C above the 1951 to 1980 baseline or about 1.44 C above 1880s averages. Though temperatures should fall somewhat as El Nino cools off in the Pacific, it’s likely that 2016 comes in well hotter than the previous three record warm years. Current guidance indicates a likely range of 1 to 1.13 C above the 1950 to 1981 baseline or 1.22 to 1.35 C above 1880s averages. This is uncomfortably close to 1.5 C warming levels the Paris Climate Conference has stated a desire to avoid by the end of this Century. Image source: Climate Central.)
But I’m pretty sure if you told these same scientists a year ago that February of 2016 would see temperatures in the range of 1.43 to 1.57 degrees Celsius above averages seen during the 1880s, as we see now in the three major global climate monitors (here, here and here), they’d have responded with not just a little incredulity.
“The startlingly high temperatures so far in 2016 have sent shockwaves around the climate science community,” said David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Programme, in a recent World Meteorological Organization press release. Dr Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State echoed these sentiments — “I think we all knew this would be a warm year due to the major El Niño event. But I don’t think any of us expected such remarkable and persistent record-breaking warmth.”
It’s a new extreme record warmth that comes immediately following a major global temperature ramp-up during 2015 — a period that the World Meteorological Organization is calling alarming due to an increasing number of severe climate impacts. “Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” said Mr Taalas, the WMO’s Secretary General in a press release announcing its most recent State of the Climate annual report.
World Meteorological Organization — Dangerous Climate Change is Here
The new report entitled — Hotter, Drier, Wetter; Face the Future — is scheduled to be released on March 23rd. It highlights a world undergoing a fundamental and wrenching shift in its once-stable climates. A shift that became all the more vivid during 2015 as the pace of major climate change related events rapidly ramped up.
The report highlights observations of record global surface temperatures, record ocean temperatures within the top 2,000 meters of the worlds’ waters, and the highest sea levels ever recorded on a global basis. The report also noted that Winter Arctic sea ice during 2015 and 2016 were at the lowest extent levels ever observed in the satellite record. WMO also highlights major heat, wildfire and hydrological events during 2015. Devastating heatwaves swept through India and Pakistan, exceptional heatwaves scorched Western and Central Europe, and more than 2 million hectares of Arctic forest burned in Alaska. WMO points to a number of very extreme rainfall events around the globe — particularly highlighting a West African monsoon that in some places dumped 13 months worth of rainfall in just one hour. Severe drought was also an issue for 2015 with Southern Africa experiencing its worst drought since 1933 and Northern South America and the Caribbean also seeing record dry conditions.
(The WMO notes a number of extreme and significant climate change related events in its most recent annual report. A series of events that, according to monthly monitoring by NOAA, continued on into a record hot February of 2016. Image source: NOAA.)
According to WMO, 2015 also saw some of the most intense tropical cyclones ever recorded with Pam, a category 5 storm, making landfall near Vanatu, Mexico and Patricia reaching a peak intensity of 346 kilometers per hour — the strongest storm ever to emerge in either the Eastern Pacific or the Atlantic basin. A very rare hurricane Chapala also churned ashore in Yemen. An event that was immediately followed by a second similar cyclone — Megh.
Overall, WMO notes that:
The year 2015 made history, with shattered temperature records, intense heatwaves, exceptional rainfall, devastating drought and unusual tropical cyclone activity… That record-breaking trend has continued in 2016. The theme Hotter, Drier, Wetter. Face the Future highlights the challenges of climate change and the path towards climate-resilient societies.
In confronting that challenge, WMO calls for a redoubled effort to rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent runaway global warming. However, WMO realistically notes that current national pledges will likely result in about 3 C worth of warming this Century unless even more aggressive action causes fossil fuel based emissions to peak soon and swiftly decline.
WMO recognizes that increasingly intense droughts, heatwaves and wildfires will inevitably emerge due to the amount of warming that is already locked in. WMO recommends a set of climate resiliency enhancements to aid in climate change related disaster response. However, it is unclear if even the WMO realizes the level of threat and difficulty a rapidly warming world is now facing from an increasingly dangerous and destabilized global climate system.
In other words — that disorienting sensation scientists got from looking at these terrifying temperature jumps during February is about to become a lot more common for pretty much everyone. For from the weather to the ice to the oceans to the very complexion of the sky — things are about to get pretty darn weird. Worse and weirder if we don’t shut down fossil fuel based carbon emissions soon.
Hat tip to Wili
(Note: RS estimated temperature departures for 2016 have been revised upward to 1.22 to 1.35 above 1880s averages [1 to 1.13 above the NASA 20th Century baseline] in light of very high January, February and March global temperature anomalies.)