With Indicators Pointing Toward Back-to-Back La Ninas, NASA Shows August 2017 was Second Hottest on Record

The Earth really hasn’t backed off that much from the record heat of 2016. And since we’re experiencing what NOAA states is more and more likely to be back-to-back La Nina periods, the world should really sit up and take notice.

El Nino and La Nina Variability as Part of the Larger Warming Trend

As a measure of natural variability, La Ninas bring cooler conditions to a large portion of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Since the influence of this ocean on the larger climate system is so strong, La Ninas tend to generate periodic cooling in surface temperatures across the globe. El Nino, by contrast, generates periodic warming. The cycling between these two states can be imagined as a wave form.

(1998 and 2016 were both strong El Nino years — producing new record hot global temperatures when they occurred. Follow-on La Nina years resulted in counter-trend cooling that was not great enough to disturb the much larger overall global warming based trend. Image source: NASA.)

This cycle, however, should not be confused with the overall larger climate trend — which has been for considerable and rapid warming over the course of more than a century. That said, and despite the larger and obvious warming trend, La Nina years have tended to be cooler than El Nino years. This prevalence has resulted in years in which global surface temperatures temporarily, but slightly compared to the larger trend, back off from recent records. Meanwhile, El Nino years have tended to bring on new record hot temperatures due to their peaking influence on the greater trend of fossil fuel and carbon emissions based warming.

August 2017 Second Hottest on Record; 2017 Also Tracking Toward Second Hottest Year

According to NASA, August of 2017 came in as the second hottest August in the 137 year climate record. Overall August temperatures were 1.09 C warmer than 1880s averages. A measure that came in 0.14 C cooler than the record hot August of 2016 and 0.05 C warmer than the third hottest August — 2014. This added heat to the Earth System continued a larger record trend that has been in place at least since 2014 in which temperatures near the Earth’s surface spiked to far higher than previous levels (see image above).

Present NASA tracking shows that the first 9 months of climate year 2017 (Dec-Aug) were 1.14 C hotter than 1880s averages. By comparison, climate year of 2016 (Dec-Nov) hit 1.24 C above 1880s averages with January through December hitting 1.22 C above 1880s averages. The third warmest year on record, 2015, came in at around 1.09 C hotter than 1880s. Given this larger trend, NASA scientists presently provide an 83 percent probability that 2017 will come in as the second hottest year on record.

Back to Back La Ninas Probably on the Way, But no Significant Cool-Off So Far

It appears that 2017 is likely to hit around 1.11 C above 1880s averages. This is a 0.11 C dip below the record hot year of 2016. And it’s a dip enabled by the formation of a La Nina during fall of 2016 and a likely back to back formation of La Nina during the same season of 2017. In contrast, the strong La Nina following the 1997-1998 El Nino produced a much greater relative global temperature drop of around 0.2 C. An approximate 0.1 C return from the very strong 2016 spike is not much of a variability-based fall back and could point toward a stronger relative warming and a possible near term challenge to the 2016 global record in a likely El Nino during 2018-2020.

(One of the sole cooler than 30-year climatology regions in the Pacific is the Equatorial zone stretching from the Central Pacific to the West Coast of South America. Periodic cool water upwelling is driving this cooling which is a signal for La Nina. NOAA presently identifies a 55 to 60 percent chance of La Nina developing during fall of 2017. If this happens, late 2016 and late 2017 will feature back to back La Ninas. Despite this development, global temperatures are still hanging near record hot ranges. Image source: NOAA.)

Wild cards for this fall will hinge, in part, on how strong Northern Hemisphere polar amplification ramps up as Arctic cooling lags. Arctic sea ice extent appears to be tracking toward 5th to 6th lowest on record at end of the summer melt season. While sea ice volume has hit near second to fourth lowest on record. Both re-radiated heat from warmer than normal Arctic Ocean sea surfaces and larger energy transfer from the middle latitudes should drive a strong polar amplification signal similar to those seen during recent years. And, already, it appears the upper latitude Northern Hemisphere cooling is lagging typical 30-year climatology. However, it remains to be seen whether fall of 2017 will rival fall of 2016’s record observed heat transfer over the Pacific and north into the Beaufort region.

Such a signal would likely firmly solidify 2017 as second hottest on record. However, stronger than expected variable La Nina based cooling could upset this trend and bring 2017 closer to 2015 values. With so many months already passed, we’re looking at a possible swing of 0.02 to 0.04 C on the lower end if La Nina is stronger and a strong polar amplification signal does not emerge — which would still result in less of a variable dip than we saw post 1998.

(High amplitude Jet Stream waves to again transfer prodigious volumes of heat into the Arctic during fall of 2017? Watch this space. Earth Nullschool GFS model based image from September 28, 2017 shows another larger ridge forming over the Pacific Northwest and extending up into the Arctic.)

The end result is that the world is now firmly in a 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperature zone. Such a zone is one that is well outside of typical recent human experience. One that will tend to continue to produce unsettling and harmful weather and climate extremes. Furthermore, increasingly harmful climate change related events are likely to more swiftly ramp up with each additional 0.1 C in global temperature increase and as the world approaches the 1.5 C to 2 C threshold.



Dr. Gavin Schmidt


Earth Nullschool




Leave a comment


  1. Jacque

     /  September 28, 2017


    Coal terminal

    Regulators in Washington state dealt a potentially lethal blow Tuesday to a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest, denying the project a water quality permit needed to move forward…Regulators in Washington state dealt a potentially lethal blow Tuesday to a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest, denying the project a water quality permit needed to move forward…coal companies eyed the ports of the Pacific Northwest as the fastest — and cheapest — route from the Power River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to overseas markets. Since then, however, a global decline in coal consumption, combined with stiff opposition from local Pacific Northwest communities, has resulted in nearly every proposed project being either denied by regulators or abandoned by its backers. The Longview project is currently the last remaining proposal on the West Coast…“I think this really ends the conversation around coal export, and it ends it with a firm punctuation mark that these are bad choices for our region,” Hasselman said. “They harm people, they harm water quality, they don’t make sense.”



    • Good news. Thanks to ThinkProgress for this excellent report. And thank you for posting it.

      Going to embed this image. It’s another very ugly coal terminal. But I think people need to see this eyesore.


    • Sheri

       /  September 28, 2017

      Lord in heaven, we really need to ruin our water quality to export coal….yikes. This report is good mews


  2. eleggua

     /  September 28, 2017

    Radical solutions to energy production and to reducing food costs by reducing imports.

    ‘These Solar Farms Have A Secret Hiding Under Them: Mushrooms’


    “…The farms, at two locations in northeastern Japan, will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power that will be sold to a local utility, while the mushroom farms will yield an annual 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms, a crop that is typically imported from China….

    Farmers also have another option: Grazing sheep or cattle on grass grown under solar panels. Sheep can take the place of lawnmowers, and as the grass sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the farm can have a negative carbon footprint.”


  3. eleggua

     /  September 28, 2017

    Another radical soulution. (Apologies if this info’s already been shared here earlier; I know you’ve written here about the benefits of elimated beef from diet, Robert.)

    ‘If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef
    With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.’


    “Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”….

    Recently (Helen) Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.

    That is, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target…..

    In addition to the well-documented health benefits of a plant-based diet, this case also brings empowerment, or at least reprieve. Regardless of a person’s degree of ecoanxiety, there is some recourse in knowing how far individuals can go to make up for a regressive federal administration simply by eating beans.”


  4. eleggua

     /  September 28, 2017


    200 PM EDT Thu Sep 28 2017

    For the North Atlantic…Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

    The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
    Storm Maria, located a few hundred miles east-northeast of Cape
    Hatteras, North Carolina, and on Hurricane Lee, located over the
    central Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles east of Bermuda.

    1. A large area of cloudiness and showers extending from the Cayman
    Islands northward across Cuba to the Florida Straits is associated
    with a broad surface trough interacting with an upper-level low. A
    weak area of low pressure is likely to form from this weather system
    while it moves northward across the Florida Straits to near the east
    coast of the Florida peninsula during the next few days, and
    environmental conditions appear conducive for development before
    upper-level winds become less favorable early next week. Regardless
    of development, this system is likely to produce locally heavy
    rainfall over portions of central and western Cuba, the Florida
    Keys, the Florida peninsula, and the northwestern Bahamas during the
    next several days.
    * Formation chance through 48 hours…low…30 percent.
    * Formation chance through 5 days…medium…50 percent.


  5. eleggua

     /  September 28, 2017


  6. Just to share a bit of good news, as they´re rare nowdays.
    Article in Portuguese:

    Rock in Rio (an annual Rock festival here in Brasil) organizers decided to offset the festival´s massive carbon footprint with a reforestation project in Amazonia, that will restore 30 thousand hectares of forest. The iniciative has the backing of our Environmental Ministery and a few very active and serious NGOs (like ISA), so I expect it won´t be just greenwashing.


  7. And back to bad news… not that anyone is going to waltz unscathed through hell´s breakfast, but IMF just gave a reminder on who´s going to suffer the blows first:

    BTW, about first blows… Colorado Bob has mentioned a few times an NGO that helped people stricken by disasters with immediate care and housing. Does anybody remember who they are and knowns if they´re helping with the current onslaught in the Caribbean?


  8. Greg

     /  September 28, 2017

    Tesla Is Sending Battery Packs to Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico. Probably best at this point for meiucal/ emergency service providers.


    • This is what a responsible corporation does. Of course we also have the fools on Wall Street who keep trying to short a company that is producing far more than just monetary value.


      • Greg

         /  September 29, 2017

        This company I obviously believe in for its societal value but as a a single stock my wife and I took a risk on with much of our retirement savings it has added years to our financial security and I still will invest anything I can. Reputable analysts continue to see a lot of upside still.


  9. Syd Bridges

     /  September 28, 2017

    At one time La Ninas worked like the brakes on a car, reducing speed to a safe limit after a burst of acceleration during the preceding El Nino. Now it’s more like depressing the clutch on a stick shift before changing to a higher gear, which is likely to happen with the next El Nino.

    I guess it’s just a little early to see the “Global Warming stopped in 2016” meme, though I don’t frequent sites that push such garbage. The denialists who claimed until about two years ago that it ended in 1998, conveniently overlooked 2003, 2007, and 2010, which showed quite clearly that 1998 was an outlier at the time but was really just a harbinger of a hotter world.

    It will be interesting to see, if the second La Nina does occur, whether it brings any cooler conditions than the one we’ve just seen. I wonder whether we could see it instead warmer than the last one as there is more heat accumulating in the Earth system.


    • La Nina pulls more of the atmospheric heat into the ocean system. El Nino happens when that ocean heat backs up, the ocean is less able to draw down the increasing atmospheric heat, and you end up with a global temperature spike at the surface. What we see at the surface will depend, in large part, on how far out of balance the ocean is with the atmosphere.


  10. Loni

     /  September 29, 2017

    Thank you, Robert, yet again an excellent assessment of our situation.


  11. Kassy

     /  September 29, 2017

    There is a newer blog but since that is focused on Puerto Rico i will just put this here.

    Tropical forests have flipped from sponges to sources of carbon dioxide

    A new study based on analyses of satellite imagery of tropical Asia, Africa and the Americas suggests that tropical forests contribute more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they remove. Much of that carbon contribution is due to deforestation, the conversion of forests to urban spaces such as farms or roads. But more than two-thirds comes from a less visible source: a decline in the number and diversity of trees in remaining forests, researchers report online September 28 in Science.

    more on:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: