If you thought 2015 was unusually hot, you were right. Last year was the second hottest on record in the United States since data collection began in 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.
Last year was also the 19th consecutive time that average temperatures in the U.S. exceeded the 20th century average, which means everyone born after 1996 has only experienced warmer than normal temperatures. NOAA also reported that December was record warm for the contiguous United States, with temperatures at 6°F above average. Twenty-nine states had their warmest December on record, while no state was record cold. The last time the country saw a warmer December was in 1939.
This year-over-year trend could continue in 2016. For this winter, NOAA said in October that above-average temperatures are forecast across much of the West and the northern half of the contiguous United States. Temperatures are also predicted to be above-average in Alaska and much of Hawaii.
In fact, there are indications that if an unprecedented El Niño weather phenomena materializes as experts believe it will, global temperatures for 2016 could surpass previous records. Climate models have shown that heat waves are likely to get worse as greenhouse gases warm the planet.
What’s more, scientists say that a warming planet means more extreme weather events, a trend that’s been observed worldwide. In 2015, the United States experienced ten climate related disasters with a cost of over $1 billion, NOAA found, all while temperatures were 2.4 °F above 20th century average. Last year’s disasters included a drought, two floods, five severe storms, a wildfire event and a winter storm. NOAA noted that numbers are still under review so costs could increase.
In November 2015, Europe had its warmest November since 1910, Japan had a wetter than average month, and a hurricane-strength storm reached Yemen for the first time. Scientists have linked climate change to regional impacts before. For instance, a December report based on novel algorithms found that a connection between recent regional climate trends and man-made climate change shows that many of the damages on natural and human systems can be attributed to global warming.
Mounting evidence behind man-made climate change doesn’t mean that skeptics are backing down, however. The Guardian reported this week that a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change found attacks on climate science have increased in recent years. Moreover, according to the study, U.S. groups like the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute offer material support to climate-denying scientists and communicate climate-denying viewpoints to lawmakers.