Although I doubt I can match the rhetorical power of Barack Obama, herewith I submit my view of the state of the Global Climate in 2014. (Again, I’m just stalling while I make my final decision on Climate Commenter of the year, a much more important task.)
The State of our Climate is strong. (Really. That’s my line…)
2014 was very possibly the warmest year in the current era of improved temperature records going back to about 1850. It wasn’t the warmest by much–as President Obama noted in his SOU speech, 14 of the 15 highest years were during this century. And this millenium, as a coincidence. Those 14 years are part of a plateau since about 1998, which James Hansen calls a period of ‘stalled temperature rises.’
What were the impacts of this latest year in the plateau? What is the real state of the world we live in with regards to climate and climate change?
There are, shall we say, competing strains of thought as shown by the covers of other climate reports…
Let’s start with ice. Ice is nice.
Arctic ice had a very good year, what blogger Neven calls ‘a rebound year’, with September’s minimum volume at 6,810 km3, well above most recent years. Although encouraging for those who worry about ice-free summers, I should note that even this robust total for Arctic ice is more than a standard deviation below the average for the years since satellites began measuring it. Of course, that only started in 1979….
Nearby in Greenland, the ice sheet also had a good year, with more ice forming than melting–however, there is a caveat, as the calving of ice into the sea meant a total loss of ice of about 200 gigatons, or 0.0007% of the total.
Antarctic sea ice reached a record high, climbing above 20 million square kilometers, a record. As for the vast Antarctic ice sheet, ice continues to melt more quickly than formed in the Western peninsula of Antarctica (a phenomenon observed since the 1930s and only peripherally connected with climate change), but 95% of the ice is in East Antarctica and it continues to grow. the GRACE project finds an overall net loss of about 14 Gt, from an ice sheet that has about 150 million Gt.
Sea level rose by between 2 and 3 millimeters in 2014, a rate that if continued would produce a 1-foot sea level rise over a century. Most of that rise is steric (due to warmer water expanding).
How about tropical cyclones? Good news again here, with only 10 total landfalls, the 4th lowest total since 1970. For the U.S., we’re now approaching 3,600 days since the last Cat 3 or higher hurricane hit the U.S. This is also a record–that’s a long time between storms. If there wasn’t so much talk about weather extremes, some bright climatologist might look at the lack of extremes as a real climate signal. Just sayin’… see directly below for another example.
For U.S. tornadoes, “Similar to the past two years, tornado activity across the U.S. during 2014 was below average. During 2014, there were 831 confirmed tornadoes during the January-October period with 50 tornado reports still pending for November-December. This gives 2014 a preliminary tornado count of 881. The 1991-2010 annual average number of tornadoes for the U.S. is 1,253.”
One of the major drivers of climate is the El Nino, La Nina phenomenon. And there wasn’t a full-fledged El Nino this year, although El Nino conditions prevailed through parts of the Pacific for much of the year. This was enough to create a controversy–what isn’t enough to create a controversy these days? Those who are striving to heighten awareness of climbing temperatures were quick to point out that the (possibly) highest temperature was achieved without an El Nino (which normally works to raise temps), while those of a more skeptical bent were equally quick to note that conditions that normally produce an El Nino in fact existed. More fuel for academic discussion! Or food fights, if you prefer.
As for drought, for the U.S., the NCDC says, “The U.S. experienced a significant recovery from the major 2012 drought on a national scale during 2013, while a notable feature of 2014 was a resurgence of drought at the start of the year. The national drought area expanded during spring 2014, but was followed by a contraction later in the year. In the bigger picture, 2014 follows a trend of national recovery from the major drought of 2012.” It’s a bit too early to get global figures for drought.
I was unable to get flood stats–if a reader can show me a reference to a credible source I’ll update this post. And stories about extreme weather events are not only anecdotal, but often focus on photogenic events that the stories say are not unprecedented. Again, links will help me update this!
In short, what may have been the hottest year on record did not seem to produce records in anything else.
In another post I hope to look at other impacts–on polar bears, mosquitos, agriculture and some metrics of more immediate interest to the majority of humans who do not follow the climate debate.
Thanks for any help you can provide me!