Update: I have changed the section on storms, specifically storm intensity (ACE). As commenter MikeM noted, intensity was higher than the original information I showed.
Welcome to the second annual State of the Climate Report, brought faithfully to you by The Lukewarmer’s Way. (Buy the book…)
In this first part of the series we will look at the first order metrics by which we judge our climate.
The ‘first order effects’ are those of most concern to most of humanity. Are we going to bake, are we going to drown, are we going to die of thirst or is a tornado going to move in next door? These questions can be quickly answered for 2015 without too much in the way of controversy. (Some will argue that I should use different data sets for some measurements, but the differences are actually quite slight.)
Global Average Temperature Rise
2015 was one of the hottest years in the 180 year temperature record. They’re still fighting about whether it was tops or not (satellite data suggesting it was not a record, land-based data suggesting that it was), but it certainly was one of the top five. The robust El Niño experienced through most of 2015 contributed to the high temperature rise, but with 15 of the top 16 temperatures recorded during this century, the El Niño does not explain all of it. The last time temperatures were below the 30-year average was February, 1985. That’s 30 years. Almost 31. The globe has warmed, even counting the ‘pause’.
Temperatures rose about 0.165C over the past 10 years. If it continues to rise at the same rate for the rest of the century it would amount to 1.65C, far lower than predicted by those most concerned about our climate.
Sea Level Rise
Global sea levels continue to rise at about 3 millimeters per year. This is fast than was observed through most of the 20th Century, but at 30 centimeters per century is not very alarming. If sea level rise were to remain constant through the rest of the century it would amount to 12 inches, slightly more than the 8 inches of sea level rise observed through the 20th Century.
In its most recent report, the IPCC predicted sea levels are likely to rise by between 0.28m (11 inches) and 0.98m (38.5 inches) by 2100 – a range encompassing both its highest and lowest emissions scenarios. Tol and Yohe predicted that a mid-range sea level rise of 50 cm would result in the loss of 0.23% of habitable land area.
Droughts are a local phenomenon. Measuring them globally is fraught. As of 2009, trends in drought worldwide were negative. However, in some parts of the world like East Africa, drought is certainly severe, even if it is hard to say if it is increasing, due to poor record keeping. Princeton’s Justin Sheffield has published saying that global drought has declined over the past century.
Floods are actually the climate phenomenon that affects the most people. It isn’t mentioned much in the climate debate. I wonder why? Oh…
Because these countries also account for a good portion of the population increase since 1950, it is no surprise that floods have impacted them disproportionately. But are floods increasing or getting stronger?
Again, that’s hard to say. How people develop the land around rivers has a big part to play in flooding, as people in the UK are starting to realize. And population increase pushes people into areas at risk for flooding, so some floods are being recognized that weren’t before.
The number of floods being reported is rising.
However, loss of life due to floods has declined dramatically.
What drives flooding is precipitation. 2015 had above average precipitation, recovering from 2014, which was 52 mm below average. Unfortunately, I don’t have final figures for 2015.
The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season was a slightly below average season featuring eleven named storms, of which four reached hurricane status. According to ACE Indices, with a low number of a three-year period of 2013–15, it signaled the possible end to the active phase of Atlantic hurricane activity which began in 1995.
The 2015 Pacific hurricane season is recognized as the second most active Pacific hurricane season on record. A record 31 tropical depressions developed, of which 26 became named storms, just shy of the record 27 set in 1992. A record-tying 16 became hurricanes, and a record 11 storms became major hurricanes throughout the season.
Update: The original information I showed was based on an incomplete data set. I have replaced it with this:
As residents of California and other places will testify, El Nino years can bring a lot of stormy weather.
For those concerned that storms are getting more frequent, Dr. Ryan Maue provides equal comfort:
Conclusion of Part 1
There are two areas of concern highlighted here: The rise in global average temperatures and the incidence and severity of flooding.
About the temperature rise there is little question. Whether or not 2015 was a record, it was warmer than 2014 and 2014 was very warm. Although a rate of .165C per year is not frightening in and of itself, it would certainly be comforting to see a couple of years when temperatures dropped.
Regarding floods, it is obvious that collecting good data has proven a challenge. I wouldn’t trust anyone who said that floods were getting more frequent or stronger, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who said the opposite. Building on flood plains is still a very bad idea, in any event.
Regarding sea level rise, drought and storm activity, this period has been remarkably benign and this period is stretching on a bit. For those of us not in East Africa, the weather has not been very bad.
After 15 years of this century, our climate does not seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. Each year like 2015 should be counted a victory for the huge majority of us who are not made homeless or killed by the weather. For those unfortunates we can only offer succor and sympathy.
If the rest of this century proceeded in the same fashion, we would hopefully be well-pleased.
That’s a big if, however.