The numbers are in from both science agencies that keep climate records, and it was another hot one in 2018 — the fourth warmest average annual global temperature in history. It comes in fourth only to the three years that preceded it — 2015, 2016, and 2017, in that order, according to both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA data. The final temperature statistics were compiled and confirmed this week independently by the two agencies (the results were delayed due to the government shutdown) — and are based on records going back for 140 years of official record-keeping.
- 18 of the top 19 hottest years have occurred since 2001, with 2016 being the warmest due to a strong El Niño that year.
- The global temperature in 2018 was nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) higher than the average temperature in the late 19th century, at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
- The anecdotal evidence of the year’s warmth was evidenced, according to NASA’s climate experts, by such events as the heat wave in Australia, the fires and droughts and flooding rains in the U.S., the disappearing Arctic and Antarctic ice and shrinking glaciers.
- Scientists have also linked the high temperatures last year to hurricanes Michael and Florence, and the recent deadly cold snap in the U.S. caused by the shift in the polar vortex.
- A third scientific model, the C3S from Europe. came out with the same result but was also able to pinpoint that the Arctic saw the most unusual warmth in 2018, particularly north of the Bering Strait between U.S. and Russia.
It was only the 14th warmest year but it was the third wettest on average for the United States due to very wet conditions in the mid-Atlantic and wetter than normal all across the Eastern U.S., according to NOAA. But the Western U.S. continued to be dryer or much dryer than average since records began in 1895, with severe drought conditions present across most of the Southwestern U.S.
- There were 14 weather-related billion-dollar disasters in the U.S. in 2018 resulting in a total of more than $91 billion in direct losses, the fourth largest on record, including Hurricane Michael at $25B, Hurricane Florence at $24B, and Western wildfires at $24B.
Why This Matters: According to the consensus of global climate scientists, the key number for global warming is to limit our average temperature increase 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts. We are already halfway there, and most now believe we will go above the Paris target level of warming — that we will not be able to do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is another alarm bell being sounded. The question is do we have the political will to take the kind of actions needed to avoid going too much above 2 degrees?
To Go Deeper: Check out the full NOAA/NASA briefing deck here. Or check out this climate action tracker from The New York Times here.