Northwest stayed warm in May; new graphics show long-term trends

After warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the past year, May suddenly turned cooler across the nation — except for the Northwest, which remained warmer than normal.

Temp anomaly

Although it seemed cool recently, at least compared to April, Western Washington had the greatest deviation with temperatures between 3 and 5 degrees higher than the 30-year average. See first map.

It seems ironic to write about cooler temperatures after last month’s teaser headline at the top of the Kitsap Sun’s front page: “Earth getting HOT, HOT, HOTTER!”

The big story earlier this month was that worldwide temperatures had broken all-time heat records for 12 months in a row, and April’s record-high temperature was a full half-degree higher than the previous record.

The average temperature hasn’t been below the 20th century average since December 1984, and the last time the Earth broke a monthly cold record was nearly a century ago, in December 1916, according to NOAA records.

“These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email to Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press.

Temp outlook

El Niño, which is now fading, was blamed in part for the unprecedented heat worldwide. But climatologists say the onward march of global warming lies in the background. Last year turned out to be the hottest year on record, easily beating 2014, which was also a record year.

The first four months of this year were so much hotter than 2015 that 2016 is still likely to set another record. NOOA’s Climate Prediction Center says La Niña conditions are on the way, with a 50 percent chance of La Niña by summer and a 75 percent chance by fall.

Summer temperatures are expected to be above average except in the Central U.S., while both coasts are expected to be the most likely to exceed normal temperatures. Check out the second map on this page.

Speaking of the onward march of climate change, computer graphics developers keep coming up with new ways to show how global temperatures are increasing in concert with rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

New normal

Climate Central has combined data sets from NOAA to produce the orange graph,which shows the advance of a trailing 30-year temperature average from 1980 through 2015. To put it simply, we continue to adjust to a new normal.

Others have used animation to depict temperature change. One graphic (below) received a lot of attention this month. Temperature change is represented as the distance from a “zero” circle starting in 1850. Each month, a line moves one-twelfth of the way around the circle, completing 360 degrees each year. The line gets farther and farther from the center and really jumps outward in 2015.

Ed Hawkins, professor of meteorology at the University of Reading near London, created the animation. He credited an associate, Jan Fuglestvedt, with the idea of a spiral.

Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, called it “the most compelling global warming visualization ever made.” His blog post also includes some other visual depictions of climate change.

Another animated graph, by Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, show similar data depicted as a moving line graph.

NOAA Visualizations plotted temperature differences at various locations on a world map. Over time, it is easy to see how the Earth has gotten generally warmer, accelerating in recent years.

One of the most intriguing graphics, in my opinion, is one that purports to show the various factors that affect global temperature — from volcanic activity to man-made aerosols to greenhouse gases. The designers, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, ask viewers to judge which factor they believe leads to global warming.

Since this is a blog about water issues, I would probably be remiss if I didn’t point out that the consequences of rising greenhouse gases is not just an increase in the Earth’s temperature. We can’t forget that a major portion of the carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, causing effects on marine life that are far from fully understood.

3 thoughts on “Northwest stayed warm in May; new graphics show long-term trends

  1. Thank you for the collection of recent climate change visualizations. As a regular viewer at Climate Central I had seen most of them individually but as a group they make a larger impact. The link to the Bloomberg graphic on natural and man-made causes is also a good summation.

    Too bad we don’t have a visualization of the GOP’s impact on the future’s climate. Their obstinate rejection of scientific authority is blocking serious climate mitigation both at home and abroad and could result in a measurable increase in the rate of global deterioration. My guess is their destructive behavior – including their nomination of Donald Trump – gives them a perverse sense of the power which comes from destruction.

    The IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 does attempt to show the consequences of the “business as usual” increase of global greenhouse gas concentrations for the remainder of this century with a global temperature increase of about 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. How much of that increase will be due to our GOP’s obstinacy is not clear to me but I may turn out to be substantial.

    1. Greg,

      Thank you for the comment. People who are serious about learning the ins and outs of climate change can find plenty of resources to further their understanding. Future temperatures in 10, 20 or 50 years remain uncertain, both because of the limitations of climate models and because nobody can predict how much humans will do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But there is almost no uncertainty about the direction that temperatures will go based on the effects of rising greenhouse gases in the absence of countervailing forces.

      To understand the reference to Pathway 8.5, I recommend that people take a look at a chapter called “Making Sense of Climate Change Projections” (PDF 2 mb) in a report called “State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound.”

      For folks who would like to dig deeper into the research, I recommend either subscribing to “Science Daly” or visiting the site and searching on terms such as “climate change” or “ocean acidification” or even terms such as “global cooling” or “global warming skeptics.” Science Daly reports on all sorts of scientific studies using news releases from hundreds of universities and research organizations. One can track the information back to the original reports to view comments from various points of view.

  2. Gotta love the term “hotter”. They don’t want us to think that it might have been “warmer”, but really really toasty.

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