Climate

This Christmas Shattered Heat Records

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There was no white Christmas for the eastern half of the U.S. this year, far from it in fact. Record high holiday temperatures in several states — 86 degrees in Tampa, Florida, 83 degrees in Houston, Texas, 67 degrees in Boston, Massachusetts, 68 degrees in Burlington, Vermont and 66 degrees in New York City, just to name a few — are an exclamation point on the end of what will be the globe’s hottest year to date.

The heat is adding fuel to severe weather in several states, storms that turned deadly across the South.


Across the country, the weather has more closely resembled spring than typical December temperatures. “According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 2,693 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 23 days of December. An additional 3,912 record-warm daily low temperatures have been set during the same time period,” the Weather Channel reported. “By comparison, just 147 daily record lows and 140 additional record cool highs were set in the same time frame.”

And the string of broken temperature records isn’t limited to the U.S. either. NOAA recently announced that this November was the hottest in the 136-year period of record, “at 0.97 degrees C (1.75 degrees F) above the 20th century average of 12.9 degrees C (55.2 degrees F), breaking the previous record of 2013 by 0.15 degrees C (0.27 degrees F).” Thus November became the seventh consecutive month that a monthly global temperature record has been broken.


Thanks to a combination of an intense El Niño weather pattern, marked by a burst of warming in the Pacific, and long-term human-caused climate change, 2015 is poised to be the hottest year on record by a significant margin.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only region experiencing uncharacteristically high temperatures in November, however. As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm recently wrote, “It was so warm that… parts of the Arctic and Siberian permafrost were a staggering 10.2 degrees C (18 degrees F!) warmer than normal. That is particularly troubling since the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and as it defrosts, it releases that carbon in the form of either CO2 or methane (CH4), which is 84 more times more potent at trapping heat than CO2 over a 20-year period.”

While one of the strongest El Niños on record is driving up temperatures this winter, a recent analysis by Climate Central found that carbon pollution emitted by human activity is by far the biggest driver of warming, while natural factors like El Niño account for a much smaller percentage.

A graph showing how much greenhouse gases dominate global temperatures compared to natural factors like El Niño. Almost all of 2015’s record heat is due to human activity.

A graph showing how much greenhouse gases dominate global temperatures compared to natural factors like El Niño. Almost all of 2015’s record heat is due to human activity.

“We’re living through history, and not of a good kind,” climate activist Bill McKibben told the New York Times this week. “2015 didn’t just break the global temperature record — it crushed it.”

Thirteen of the 14 hottest years on record took place in the 21st century, an alarming trend that did not seem to be lost on the world leaders who gathered for last month’s climate negotiations in Paris. The talks resulted in a historic agreement between 195 nations to leave the majority of the planet’s fossil fuels unburned and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”