No El Nino, But July of 2017 was the Hottest on Record. So What the Hell is Going on?

According to NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, July of 2017 was 0.83 C hotter than the NASA 20th Century baseline (1.05 C hotter than 1880s). That’s the hottest July ever recorded in the 137 year global climate record.

In the Pacific, ENSO conditions remain neutral. And since 2014-2016 featured one of the strongest El Ninos on record, you’d expect global temperatures to back off a bit from what should have been a big spike in the larger warming trend. So what happened?

(Top image shows July of 2017 global temperature anomalies compared to July of 2016 global temperature anomalies [bottom image]. July of 2016 was cooling into a weak La Nina relative to one of the strongest El Ninos on record. This year, ENSO neutral conditions prevail coordinate with rather strong polar amplification in the Southern Hemisphere as temperatures in the Southern Ocean off West Antarctica hit an 8 C warm temperature anomaly [!!]. Images provided by NASA GISS.)

During July of 2016, the world was backing away from a very strong El Nino and heading into the mild global temperature trough of a weak La Nina. Cooler conditions in the Equatorial Pacific were starting to put a bit of a damper on the extreme global temperature departures that, earlier in the year, hit as high as 1.55 C above 1880s averages during February.

The La Nina lag during July of 2016 was enough to pull global surface temperatures down to 1.04 C above 1880s averages. However, the added heat pumped out into the system by both fossil fuel produced greenhouse gasses and the shift to strong El Nino appears to have generated a step change in the global temperature regime. So despite a weak La Nina dominating during fall of 2016, global temperatures remained in a range of 1.06 to 1.21 C above 1880s averages during August through December.

2017 Still Trending Toward Second Hottest on Record

Moving into 2017, overall global temperatures have backed off from the extreme heat seen during 2016. But only a little.

Adding in the record hot July at 1.05 C above 1880s averages, we find that 2017, so far is 1.16 C hotter than 1880s overall for the first seven months. That’s just 0.05 C shy of the record global heat that appeared in 2016. Not really much of a back-off at all.

July’s own record wasn’t a very impressive warm departure from 2016 — beating it by just 0.01 C. But what it does reveal is that there is an extraordinary amount of heat roaming the surface airs and waters of our world. And since all that extra heat will tend to resist cooling into Northern Hemisphere winter as it transfers poleward, we can probably expect that relative temperature anomalies will again rise as we move away from Northern Hemisphere summer. With departures likely continuing to exceed 1.05 or even 1.1 C above 1880s for most months going forward.

Already, early GFS model runs indicate that August of 2017 will likely be warmer than July. And this month might even come close to challenging the 1.21 C above 1880s averages achieved during 2016. However, using GFS global averages as an indicator is not a perfect oracle. So we wait on the August numbers from GISS and NOAA a month from now for final confirmation.

Furthermore, we do have a relatively weak cool Kelvin wave rippling along beneath the Equatorial Pacific at this time. This wave should shift the ENSO pattern to the cool side of neutral by Northern Hemisphere fall. A pattern that should also tend to nudge overall global temperatures downward. Recent falls in the north, though, have tended to exhibit very extreme polar warming. And a similar trend this year would tend to offset any Pacific Equatorial cooling. Lastly, the cooler ENSO neutral pattern is likely to still be a warmer general forcing than the weak La Nina that appeared during late 2016. So there is at least some potential that some months during fall of 2017 will be warmer than those during fall of 2016.

Considering these trends, the best available predictive analysis from NASA shows that 2017 is likely to be about 1.1 C warmer than 1880s or the second hottest year on record globally overall. NASA’s Gavin Schmidt gives this range a 77 percent likelihood of bearing out. But note the error bar in Gavin Schmidt’s above tweet. In other words, the presently far more unstable climate appears to be quite capable of serving up some relatively nasty surprises.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA ENSO Forecast and Analysis

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

Hat tip to Redsky

Hat tip to Joe Romm

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30 Comments

  1. eleggua

     /  August 16, 2017

    When hell was in session.

    Reply
  2. eleggua

     /  August 16, 2017

    ‘Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes’
    Aug. 12, 2017

    Reply
  3. eleggua

     /  August 16, 2017
    Reply
  4. Shawn Redmond

     /  August 16, 2017

    This is encouraging news with regard to peat bogs and a warming world:
    SPRUCE scientists are trying to answer a potentially world-changing question: How will peatlands react as the world warms and CO2 concentrations rise? Scientists fear that peatlands may go from being a carbon sink to a massive, unstoppable source. If climate change causes peatlands to dry out, it could mean a slow — or possibly sudden — release of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Further warming, more potential release of CO2: a textbook example of a positive feedback loop. Even more worrying are the bogs, fens and peatlands locked in the permafrost further north: if those melt, researchers fear a sudden influx of massive amounts of both CO2 and methane.

    The project is in its infancy, but Kolka says so far the good news is highlighted in a 2016 SPRUCE study that found heating the peat does not result in a loss of carbon or methane below 1 foot (o.3 meters), which means old carbon may stay locked away even in a significantly warmer world.
    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-08-16/undiscovered-peatlands-might-important-thing-learn-today-heres/

    Reply
    • Other studies have found that warming results in a portional release of the deeper carbon stores. Of course the big question RE feedbacks is how much and how fast. And wildfires as a mechanism for tapping this deeper carbon store need to be taken into account. We’ve seen similar serious impacts in the tropics due to peatland fires burning deep. So this risk for the Arctic should not be downplayed.

      This study is one of many markers. Hope to see more.

      Reply
  5. climatehawk1

     /  August 16, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  6. California scientists push to create massive climate-research programme.
    http://www.nature.com/news/california-scientists-push-to-create-massive-climate-research-programme-1.22455

    California has a history of going it alone to protect the environment. Now, as US President Donald Trump pulls back on climate science and policy, scientists in the Golden State are sketching plans for a home-grown climate-research institute — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

    The project could be funded by revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade programme to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but its political prospects are unclear. Advocates say they have received a warm reception from California Governor Jerry Brown, but a spokesperson for Brown would say only that “discussions are ongoing”. The proposal must also clear the state legislature.

    And California might ultimately have some company. At Columbia University in New York City, science dean Peter de Menocal — a palaeoclimatologist — hopes to build an alliance of major universities and philanthropists to support research into pressing questions about the impacts of climate change. Potential topics include local variations in sea-level rise and the changing availability of freshwater resources and food.

    Reply
  7. Suzanne

     /  August 16, 2017

    Understanding Climate Change has a new video up..and it includes the tragedy in Sierra Leone….

    Reply
  8. bostonblorp

     /  August 16, 2017

    So is it safe to say that with the return of El Nino that depressing GISTEMP chart will go even more vertical? 1.5C looks like a slam dunk in the next five years, ten tops.

    Reply
    • 1.5 C global in five years isn’t too likely. We’d have to see a similar El Nino to 2014-2016 coming back to back to make that even a possibility. If PDO stays positive, we could test the 1.3 to 1.4 C range if we have a normal to somewhat strong El Nino pre 2025. We should have a decent La Nina in there somewhere too.

      Reply
    • Erik Frederiksen

       /  August 16, 2017

      From a recent paper titled Responses and changes in the permafrost and snow water equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere under a scenario of 1.5 °C warming:

      “The results show that the threshold of 1.5 °C warming will be reached in 2027, 2026, and 2023 under RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP8.5, respectively. When the global average surface temperature rises by 1.5 °C, the southern boundary of the permafrost will move 1–3.5° northward (relative to 1986–2005), particularly in the southern Central Siberian Plateau. The permafrost area will be reduced by 3.43 × 106 km2 (21.12%), 3.91 × 106 km2 (24.1%) and 4.15 × 106 km2 (25.55%) relative to 1986–2005 in RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively.”

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1674927817300680

      Reply
      • Yes. The 2023 date seemed a bit soon to me based on other model runs. But it’s conceivable that a higher sensitivity could result in that. We’d have to see a continued acceleration of the warming trend. In any case, it’s debatable whether or not we’re on a pure RCP 8.5 path at this time. We’re probably closer to 6.5 given various responses and we have the opportunity to move much lower if countries continue to enact Paris based reductions. I’d say that 1.5 C by 2023 is probably unlikely given a broader study of all the trends. Of course, if we double down on coal and gas and oil burning and if PDO stays positive, or if other unforeseens pop up, then it’s possible.

        So consider the fact that the decadal average for the 2010s including 2017 is about 1.02 C above 1880s. This includes one year at 1.21 C so far. Assuming the last three years of the 2010s average 1.15 C (a relatively aggressive stance, but plausible) and you get 1.05 C. Average rate of decadal increases since 1975 have been 0.15 to 0.20 C. Variance from the decadal average has tended to be +/- 0.2 C given strong warm natural variability events and strong cool natural variability events.

        Warming for the 2020s would tend to dilate in the 2025 to 2030 year timeframe and be closer to the 2010s base in the 2020 to 2025 depending primarily on ENSO and rates of fossil fuel burning. A relatively fast 0.2 C decadal rate of warming gets you a peak near 1.45 C during that decade and probably in the latter portion. An acceleration to a 0.25 C rate of decadal warming would put the average for the 2020s at 1.3 C with a single year at 1.5 C likely, but again most likely in the later portion. An acceleration to 0.3 C per decade would put the average at 1.35 C with a peak at 1.55 C more likely in the out years as well. These ranges are plausible. Perhaps even by 2025. Hitting 1.5 C by 2023, though, appears to be a bit of a stretch.

        We must consider the fact that our present perspective is post strong El Nino and that unless the ENSO cycle and PDO cycle has been changed, then we are looking at a stronger La Nina and a shift in PDO at some point over the coming years. Of course, we are in uncharted territory. So we should be wary of various surprises along the way.

        Reply
      • T-rev

         /  August 17, 2017

        “The results show that the threshold of 1.5 °C warming will be reached in 2027, 2026, and 2023 under RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP8.5, respectively.”

        I think that means that’s when the emissions (i.e threshold) will be in the atmosphere to ensure that 1.5C can be breached, under the various RCP’s, not when the “trend” will breach 1.5C. We’ll see a 1.5C annual spike (next 10-15 years probably) long before the trend reaches 1.5C (>30 years) of course. They then go on to discuss what will happen to permafrost at 1.5C. I may misunderstanding what they are saying but that’s my take.

        Reply
  9. wili

     /  August 16, 2017

    We have very smoky air here in the Minneapolis area, apparently from Canadian fires hundreds of miles away! https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/07/06/air-quality

    Reply
    • wili

       /  August 16, 2017

      “…some 741,000 acres are burning in Saskatchewan this year, about 10 times what’s normal.”

      Reply
  10. Erik Frederiksen

     /  August 16, 2017

    Global surface temperatures, when averaged over several years, have gone up fairly linearly over the last 40 years.

    But with steadily increasing CO2 and increasing amplifying feedbacks like ice melt and weakening carbon sinks it seems we may be seeing a step-change in the rate of warming.

    Unfortunately, other impacts like increases in extreme weather and sea level rise are very nonlinear.

    Reply
    • So the average temperature for the 90s was 0.62 C above 1880s. The average temperature for the 2000s was 0.84 C above 1880s. And the average temperature for the 2010s is probably tracking toward somewhere around 1.05 C above the 1880s. This is very close to the 0.2 C decadal rate of warming. So though we have a step change in global temperatures following the 2014-2016 El Nino, we do not, as yet, have a step change in the rate of temperature increase. So, as of yet, there is no major acceleration — although the past three decades may well represent a 0.05 C acceleration from the rate of warming seen in the 1970s and 1980s. We could still accelerate. I wouldn’t rule that out. But we are still in the context of the rate of warming for the past three decades.

      Please see NASA GISS for temperature data.

      Reply
    • T-rev

       /  August 17, 2017

      i”t seems we may be seeing a step-change in the rate of warming.”

      We may but their is no evidence of that as of yet (well, none I have come across). Temperature increases from heat retained from emissions rises logarithmically, increased cloud cover from increased water vapor (roughly 7% extra per degree C increase) makes up most of the difference, to see a roughly linear increase BUT cloud cover is such a huge unknown, that modelling is ‘tricky’. The ECS is indeed a wobbly figure AND we should definitely be erring on the side of caution, which we definitely are not doing and I doubt civilisations resilience to 1.5C let alone >2C but “we” shall see I guess.

      Sea Level rise however does appear to be accelerating (sell if you live in Miami before everyone else tries to 🙂 ) BUT it is early days.

      Reply
  11. Violence begets violence. It is an age old truism. Stop the ability of the chosen few to profit from the pollution of the commons and the “Fiscal Cliff” evaporates.

    The fundamental flaw of Western Capitalism is the ability of corporations, (also “People” now), to profit from the free dumping of toxins if spread kinda thin. Dilution is not the solution for pollution.

    “We the People” are fined for throwing a paper cup out the car window, but dump 19 pounds of toxins per gallon of fossil fuel consumed out the exhaust of commerce and you get subsidized with our tax dollars.

    Corporations are “People” now, how come the special treatment? Privatized profits and socialized loses are a failed paradigm. Once in, “subsidized” power and the greed pollution profiteers who have become so rich they can buy government with pocket change, will pull out all stops to retain power as testified by current reality. This is class war indeed, however “We the People” are the oppressed.

    It must be said that many right here in the USA did not live through the fossil fuel exasperated climate disruption of this summer and thousands more around the planet as well. IMO those that are smart enough to be aware of the connection between anthropogenic CO2, climate disruption along with the associated income disparity and social unrest yet still work against solutions, amounts to premeditated murder. Those too dim to rebel are unwitting accessories.

    Reply
    • Mark in OZ

       /  August 17, 2017

      ^This^ x n; (n=population of all Earth life forms)

      Reply
    • wpNSAlito

       /  August 17, 2017

      Dilution *is* the solution for many types pollution, but that isn’t an option with atmospheric CO2 and the billions of machines we have burning fossil fuels, or the large populations producing waste at rates too high for the environment to absorb.

      Reply
    • Hello Lief. I hope you don’t mind. But I’ve edited this a bit for clarity. I like your rant and wanted to help it hit a bit harder and cleaner.

      Best

      R

      Reply
    • Paul

       /  August 17, 2017

      The divide and conquer techniques of the ruling classes are successfully deflecting the minds of the People from this realisation.

      Reply
  1. REDD in the news: 14-20 August 2017 | REDD-Monitor
  2. No El Nino, but July 2017 was hottest on record, so why? | The Big Raise

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