2014: One for the Record Books

NASA and NOAA confirm that last year was the hottest in recorded history.

And the superlative of “hottest year” goes to…2014! (Sorry, 2010, but you couldn’t even hold the title for a half-decade.) NOAA and NASA have just confirmed that last year’s temperatures pushed the mercury 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, surpassing the previous record-holder by 0.07 degrees.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a press release. “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The newest data point makes 38 years in a row with higher-than-average global temperatures. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years since such record-keeping began in 1880 have all occurred since 2000.

NASA and NOAA are two of the four major government agencies tracking global temperature. Earlier this month, the Japanese Meteorological Agency released preliminary data that also awarded 2014 the number one spot. The Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom has said that 2014 was the UK’s hottest year on record and is expected to release its global data soon. Each agency uses slightly different methods for their analysis, so the fact that all are arriving at the same conclusion adds weight to each individual finding.

What, the announcement doesn’t jibe with your chilly, polar-vortex-filled memories of last year? That’s because much of the United States (with the major exception of California) was cooler than average. But there’s a great big blue world out there, and most of it was red-hot—Australia literally melted (some of its roads did, anyway). The globe also felt the hottest May, June, August, September, October, and December ever recorded.

2014’s ascent to the top of the climate charts is particularly impressive because El Niño was a no-show. Scientists had expected it to hit in the spring and make things even toastier.

Global leaders will convene in Paris in November to sign an international climate change agreement. Coming off the heels of the hottest year on record, the delegates should be properly motivated. If we don’t act soon to curb carbon pollution, 2014 won’t stay the hottest for long. Some records are better left unbroken.

Illustration by NOAA Climate.gov

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