2015 breaks global record as warmest year on record

Michigan still warmer than average overall

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 3, 2016


2015 was a record-breaking year for global temperatures, as data measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA found it to be the warmest year on record.

In the continental U.S., 2015 was the second-warmest year on record, according to Thomas Karl, director for NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Only 2012 has been warmer.

“Many continental areas, including South America, Central America, Asia and Europe, we actually had (records set) for our land temperatures,” Karl said. “In fact, they broke the all-time warmest temperatures by a larger degree than any other record that we’ve had in the past.”

Temperature records go back to 1880 in parts of the world, whereas global continental records go back to 1910. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that based on the average temperatures from 1880 through 1899, 2015 was the first year that was overall 1 degree Celsius above that average.

The climate agreement signed in Paris in December aims to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 compared to those 1800s “pre-industrial” measurements, with an ideal target of 1.5 degrees Celsius to limit how much coastal land would be swallowed up by rising sea levels.

Schmidt said that compared to the baseline 20th-century measurements made between 1951 and 1980, the global temperature still came in 0.87 degrees above that average.

Data from NOAA found that practically the entire planet was warmer than normal on average during 2015, save for a cold patch in the North Atlantic and in the Antarctic Ocean. The warmest areas were in Central and South America, Asia, eastern Europe, and the western U.S. and Canada, along with vast swaths of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean.

While the El Niño event — a periodic warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that impacts weather patterns across the globe — is making things warmer, Schmidt said that even stripping out El Niño’s impact leaves 2015 as the warmest year, following a warming trend that has been building for decades.

“The long-term trend is why 2015 is the warmest,” Schmidt said. “There’s no indication that long-term trend has slowed in the past two decades.”

El Niño events tend to really warm the atmosphere around six months after they take place, he added, meaning that 2016 likely is going to start off warmer than usual and heat up from there as the year progresses.

Karl said 2015 also broke global monthly temperature records in 10 out of 12 months. Only January and April were not record-breaking months, while the fall months through December broke previous records “by a substantial margin.”

Daniel Brown, a climatologist with the University of Michigan, said that while climate issues globally do not always impact Michigan the same way from year to year, the state still is seeing a warming trend overall.

“This year in Michigan, the exceptional thing is that while we saw a warmer-than-average year in Michigan — it was the 22nd warmest out of 121 years — it started off with well-below-average temperatures,” Brown said. “If you remember, January, February and March were all pretty cool, and February was the third-coldest February on record in Michigan.”

Above-average temperatures in the fall, and particularly in December, pulled the state into having one of the warmest years on record, Brown said. Brown added that while Michigan and the eastern half of the U.S. may have appeared less warm in a yearlong average for 2015 compared to the western half, the latter months were “significantly warmer” in the east.

B.J. Boule, another climatologist with U of M, said that December was the warmest December in Michigan’s recorded history — a full 9-15 degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperature. Into January, he said, temperatures were still above average, but the weather did cool off.
He added that the Great Lakes have a lot less ice cover so far this year — roughly 11.5 percent of the surface area.

“That’s about 15 percent below what was seen last year,” Boule said. “And contrast that to 2014; (compared to) that point, we were about 31 percent lower.”

Brown said the lack of ice cover means there is a greater chance for lake-effect snow to form from water evaporating.
On the flip side, Boule said it also means that air temperatures inland should be slightly warmer than they would otherwise be as the season turns to spring. Air flowing over the ice cools more, he said, so temperatures could warm up faster around April and May.

“For the spring months of March, April and May, it’s looking like Michigan has higher probability of being warmer and drier than average,” he said of the seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, which is another NOAA group.