March Heat Records Crush Cold Records by Over 35 To 1, Scientists Say Global Warming Loaded The Dice

The final data is in for the unprecedented March heat wave that was “unmatched in recorded history” for the U.S. (and Canada).  New heat records swamped cold records by the stunning ratio of 35.3 to 1.

This ratio is almost off the charts, even with the brutally warm August we had, as this chart from Capital Climate shows.

For the year to date, new heat records are beating cold records by 22 to 1, which trumps the pace of the last decade by more than a factor of 10!

I like the statistical aggregation across the country, since it gets us beyond the oft-repeated point that you can’t pin any one record temperature on global warming. A 2009 analysis shows that the average ratio for the 2000s was 2.04-to-1, a sharp increase from previous decades. Lead author Dr. Gerald Meehl explained, “If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even.”

Meteorologist Jason Samenow points out just how extreme the heat wave was: “More than 7,700 daily record high temperatures were set (or tied, compared to just 287 record lows), in some cases by mind blowing margins and over multiple days. In several instances in the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest region, morning lows even bested record highs and high temperatures soared above mid-summer norms.”

Many of the country’s leading climatologists and meteorologists have looked at the data and concluded that like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace.

Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro calls the current heat wave “surreal” and explained that “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence upon its extremity.”

Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters has said, “this is not the atmosphere I grew up with.” He published a detailed statistical analysis concluding, “It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current ‘Summer in March’ heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming.

Climate Central pointed out that given the intensity, duration, and geographical breadth of the heat wave, “this may be an unprecedented event since modern U.S. weather records began in the late 19th century.” They interviewed several top scientists who explained global warming’s likely role in helping to make this extreme event so unique.

University of Utah’s Jim Steenburgh blogged that he is convinced global warming has played a role:

Welcome to the new climate in which heat waves are pushing farther outside the envelope of what has been observed previously during the historical record.  To quote Hansen et al. (2011), “Today’s extreme anomalies occur because of simultaneous contributions of specific weather patterns and global warming.”  I’m usually very cautious about linking weather events to global warming as there is considerable natural variability in the system, but these are jaw-dropping records and such events are more likely today than 60 years ago.

NBC News has a very good story about the cause of the extreme weather. Their chief environmental correspondent Ann Thompson interviews NOAA scientist, Dr. David Easterling:

Thompson:  But scientists say ping-ponging between weather extremes may be an indicator of a much bigger problem: the heat trapping gases of climate change

Easterling:  The warming that we’ve seen actually increases the chances, kind of loads the dice that were going to see these kinds of events more often.

Thompson: Dr. David Easterling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a co-author of United Nations report out this week that points to climate change as leading to extreme weather events since 1950.

Easterling:  The unusual warm days and nights, and to some extent heat waves, you can actually begin making that link between climate change and those events.

Watch it:


Since the science of attributing extreme events to global warming is still emerging, scientists still disagree to what extent a specific event like this heat wave is driven by global warming. But two of the  leading experts explain at RealClimate why even small shifts in average temperature mean “the probability for ‘outlandish’ heat records increases greatly due to global warming.” Furthermore, “the more outlandish a record is, the more would we suspect that non-linear feedbacks are at play – which could increase their likelihood even more.”

The really worrisome part is that we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century.  We are on track to warm five times times that or more this century.

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

17 Responses to March Heat Records Crush Cold Records by Over 35 To 1, Scientists Say Global Warming Loaded The Dice

  1. berry says:

    the good news… human caused climate change is largely unignorable. the bad news… the depths of human ignorance is practically unfathomable.

  2. Zimzone says:

    This winter MN has set 300 and some new record highs.
    80+F in March isn’t ‘breaking records’, it’s destroying them.

  3. John Tucker says:

    The WORST greenhouse gas emitter the LARGEST PRODUCER in the country – a Georgia coal power plant is also being fingered as a possible source/one of the sources of the uranium contamination of a community:

    A power plant, cancer and a small town’s fears ( )

    After 30 years of cost and radiation fear form nuclear power favoring coal, the irony is not lost on me.

    What a mess.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    Some systemic conditions to think about.

    ENSO neutral – According to NOAA, there was a shift in February away from La Niña conditions towards ENSO-neutral conditions that are likely to persist through summer 2012.

    Not much recent volcanic activity – there is not a lot of volcanic sulfur-dioxide driven atmospheric forcing towards a cooler atmosphere.

    Solar cycle is on the upswing.

    The volcanoes and solar cycle forcings compared with anthropogenic forcing is well illustrated here:
    The smaller wave pattern isn’t analyzed in the figure, but it would be fine if someone put the ENSO cycle up and see how much it accounts for the remaining variability.

    In short, we have seen something this March — but do we understand the implications?

  5. Raul M. says:

    As there is the ozone hole in the Arctic and the hydroxyl radical is excited by UV rays, is there a change in the OH formation and reduction?
    How about changes is OH reactivity to pollutants?

  6. John Tucker says:

    Forget CO2; warming and ocean acidification for a moment – A nuclear power plant emitting a mere fraction of a fraction of those pollutants AND radio active elements would be shut down immediately and indefinitely.

  7. It wasn’t just hot here in the U.S., even the U.K. had it’s 3rd warmest March on record, the warmest March since 1957:

    To see the average temperature for March, just choose “Mean temperature” in the climate variable menu from the Met Office link that I posted.

    Also from looking at the data, Scotland had its warmest March (tied with 1938).

  8. Al2 says:

    This is all very interesting for those of you in the U.S. but is there any similar “ratio” data across a broader area, e.g. the whole of the northern hemisphere?

  9. Raul M. says:

    Comparing apples and oranges?
    If Arctic circulation patterns change jet stream, then a region could get a loaded dice of factor 10 for a season and a only slightly loaded dice the next year.
    True apples and oranges are both fruit but from different regions.
    The overall loaded dice applies, but seems we could get the factor 10 added on for a season or so.

  10. EDpeak says:

    Joe, (or any weather data expert out there)

    Let me ask before a ‘skeptic’ asks and uses it to lie to people..but

    Even a climate hawk like myself can’t help but notice that 2010 is missing.

    The 2009 graphic has the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the 2000
    (presumably, through Dec 2009)

    The new graphic shows recent months and seasons, and 2012 to date, and
    the full year average for 2011.

    So inquiring minds want to know: what the the ratio for 2010 for the
    whole year?

  11. wili says:

    Exploiting every tragedy to tout your pro-nuke ideology makes you come off as a troll–just sayin’.

    As civilization spirals toward chaos under the weight of accelerating GW, PO, financial disaster, and any number of other looming pressures, every single nuke will go Fukushima or worse. There is just not other credible scenario. This will make vast swaths of the planet uninhabitable for an indefinite length of time, just as humans are feeling the greatest impact of all the disasters just mentioned and more. They will not think kindly on your promotional cheer-leading for this deadly technology. And of course you once again trot out the tired false choice of nuke vs coal. I have never met one single anti-nuclear activist who was pro-coal, so just give it a rest.

  12. wili says:

    I don’t know about the whole year, but I think for the summer months of 2010 the ratio was close to 3 hot records for every cold one.

    I just want to point out that we had decades where we had increased to 2:1

    Then, summer of 2010–~3:1

    Summer of 2011–11:1

    First two months of 2012 averaged I believe to 13:1

    Now March shows over 35:1

    What is the next series of numbers in this pattern?

    How much more rapidly do things have to be flying wildly out of whack for people to start waking up to the possibility that we are moving at an accelerating rate toward a radically different climate, one far less hospitable to human existence. We have crossed tipping point, and the system seems to be going through a very rapid phase change.

    But maybe it’s just a blip up on the long path of ascending temps?

    By the time we know for sure, the tragedy may already be cataclysmic and clear for all to see–or at least for any who have survived.

  13. Auntiegrav says:

    I don’t think they were trying to push the nuclear agenda, but to compare the two (for the most part).
    I do agree, however, that it isn’t a great comparison to use nuclear energy for anything. It’s like saying “rednecks are better than zombies”. Nobody really wants either, but we feel we should say something about the argument.
    You can only dig so many holes to bury your “untouchable” consequences, and when each one has to have a sign on it that will be readable and effective in half a million years, there really isn’t any soapbox you can stand on.

  14. EDpeak says:

    Update: Steve Scolnik kindly replied to our email inquiry and provided the link below which has the answer for whole-year 2010.

    Now if anyone (“skeptic” or otherwise) challenges us, we have a reply. It falls in “neatly” into monotone (“neatly” in quotes since it is a sad, alarming numerical trend), namely 2.3:1 for whole-year 2010 (see link below) puts the trend this way:

    The whole-Decade averages for 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s were N-to-1 where N was:

    1.09, then 0.77, then 0.78, then 1.14, then1.36, then 2.04 with “2.04-to-1” for the first decade of the 21st century being a significant uptick.

    Now the link below shows 2.3-to-1 for 2010, an increase from 2.04 to 2.3, and which takes us to the present graphic includeing whole-year 2011’s 2.8-to-1

    2012’s year-to-date of 22-to-1 is so huge one images whole-year 2012 will be higher ratio than 2011 and perhaps so high that 2013 may be lower ratio than 2012 (one hopes so for our safety’s sake..) but even if that happens, 2013’s being higher than 2011’s/2010’s seems extremely possible..

    Anyway, no skeptic can now jump from behind a corner at us and claim “but you don’t know 2010’s? maybe that one had a Low ratio!” now I know that’s not the case…

  15. EDpeak says:

    Wili, thanks for your comments..see my post below with the answer from CapitalClimate..

    Your comment “by the time we know for sure..” makes a very good point worth emphasizing when we speak with friends or the general public

    I would add that “when will the public wake up” is unfortunately not our only problem..the state of political/cultural mindset in the US is so abysmal that even a temporary wake up is not permanent, and, far worse still, even a permanent wake-up could lead to “solutions” like mass prayer or welcoming the apocalypse, or “we need to Hurr-Ness-Thuh-Mahr-Ket and de-regulate even more or sell off all air to corporations, because only they can save us now, not bad old gub-mint”

    in short, until Flat Earth Fundamentalist “free”-market, Government-Hating etc decades of ideological brainwashing are at least partly overcome, even “waking up” could lead not to constructive steps but to worsening..

    I think the depressing insight I’ve had in recent years is that the same thing that makes climate change “worse than we thought” is happening to U.S. (and partly, global industrial) countires politics: we’ve under estimated Toxic “positive feedback loops” in the political-economic nexus..Republicans tarted admitting climate change is real, but now have back peddaled because the frankenstein monster they helped create (or feed) is out of control and they think they better not oppose it, so now they add even more voices even in 2012 to denial, denial…Positive feedbacks may kills us in more ways, on more levels, than one..

  16. 35:1? That’s just painful. My bet is that Fox News crews have staked out every single 1 in 35 local.

    So now that ENSO’s flipping, looks like world temps are about to start shooting up again. Record territory by 2013?