Every year lately is being called the warmest year ever. Each time such declarations are made, hand wringing and demands for action are made, and just like years past, such declarations are completely wrong. To say that objective science has taken a back seat to politics on the topic of climate, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. More than anything, news coverage of any climate related topic has more in common with the Yellow Journalism than it does with objective journalism.
Of course it isn’t fair to just blame the journalists, but they are an easy target due to their unwillingness to investigate matters at all. They blithely accept any press release from the normal sources and then declare the matter settled, despite the ease by which such claims can be proven false.
As I discussed earlier this year, various methods obtain surprisingly different results. The data provided by the NOAA is proving to be the least reliable method of them all. It is also the one that gets the most sensationalized press releases.
With this in mind, let’s do a countdown of the hottest years in recent history.
#1 – 2005 with an anomaly of 0.340 ℃
#2 – 2002 with an anomaly of 0.307 ℃
#3 – 2006 with an anomaly of 0.293 ℃
#4 – 2003 with an anomaly of 0.292 ℃
#5 – 2007 with an anomaly of 0.283 ℃
#6 – 2015 with an anomaly of 0.273
There you have it, 2015 is in sixth place. Hardly the hottest year on record. It also took one of the most powerful El Nino’s on record to drive the temperature up that high. 2015 shows the classic pattern of El Nino warming as the temperature anomaly rose up steadily in the second half of the year. It would be far stranger if it didn’t.
Compare this to behavior of the hottest year, 2005. That year was well above average for the entire year. There was no real change throughout the entire year. That is one of the most remarkable years for temperature on record because there was no clear reason for it to be so warm.
2007 was warmer than 2015, but notice how it started off very warm, but rapidly dropped as the El Nino switched over to La Nina. 2016 is likely to follow the path of 2007, but it isn’t clear how strongly it will do so, or perhaps more importantly, how soon it will switch.
Here is the history of the NCEP anomaly data.
The last few months of 2015 have been impressively warm, there is no denying that as each of them were record warm months. Such warm months cannot continue as the warmer the Earth is, the faster it loses energy to space. It is impossible to see this on the above chart, but despite the record warm months, the Earth has been cooling down over the past six months.
While it isn’t obvious from the 37-year chart, the 3-year chart shows the actual monthly temperature for the past three years. It shows that the Earth cooled down at a slightly lower rate, it reached 13.2 ℃ by December, instead of the normal 12.7 ℃. Both of the past two years had almost identical peak temperatures of ~16.4 +/- .05 ℃ in July. El Nino is a large area of warm water in the Pacific equatorial waters. Hence the cooling that takes place each NH autumn was slower than usual. The 1997 El Nino resulted in very similar behavior, although its impact was greater on the year 1998.
What happens next is highly dependent on how the ENSO behaves over the next six months. If it follows the pattern from 97/98, the El Nino will start switching over to La Nina next summer. If that is the case, 2016 will be warmer than this year, and legitimately have a chance at being the warmest year in the satellite era. If it weakens and switches before then, 2016 is likely to be cooler than 2015, except for the NOAA which is already guaranteed to show 2016 as warmer than 2015.
**UPDATE: Final number for 2015 was inserted.