Can We Take the Heat?
An unusually warm April is recorded in an unusually warm year in an unusually warm decade
April 2020 joined February and March as the second warmest globally on record for each month, following a January that was the hottest in 141 years of record-keeping, amid a string of five straight years of record global warmth. Meanwhile, a new study finds that unlivable measures of heat and humidity, predicted to occur decades down the road if climate change isn’t throttled, are being recorded now.
The latest data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, announced yesterday:
- The average global temperature in April was 1.91 degrees Fahrenheit (1.06 degrees C) above the 20th-century average. The warmest April on record was in 2016.
- The eight warmest Aprils on record have all been since 2010.
- For 2020 so far, the global temperature is 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit (1.14 degrees C) above average, also ranking second behind 2016.
Seas are cooking, too. Ocean surface temperatures around the planet during April were, on average, 1.49 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 C) above the 20th-century average. April’s ocean temperature was the highest since global records have been kept, starting in 1880.
Individual records and near-records may not mean much on their own, but the pattern of records tells a story.
For 43 consecutive years, the annual average temperature across the globe has exceeded the 20th-century average. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the five warmest are the most recent five.
Expect more of the same. In a study analyzing temperature trends, scientists concluded earlier this year that there is a greater than 99% likelihood that most years from now to 2028 will rank within the 10 warmest.
Meanwhile, another research group says that hot and humid conditions expected in decades to come are already happening in spots around the globe, including along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Reporting in the journal Science Advances, the researchers say instances of unlivable heat-index readings — so high they approached and even exceed the theoretical human survivability limit — have been measured for brief periods, and the number of instances is growing.
The study found more than a dozen recent brief outbreaks of heat and humidity along the Persian Gulf that exceeded the theoretical human survivability limit, and other unprecedented outbreaks in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America.
“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said the study’s lead author, Colin Raymond, who did the research as a PhD student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow in direct correlation with global warming.”
“I believe that humid heat is the most underestimated direct, local risk of climate change,” said Radley Horton, a Columbia University professor and co-author of the study. “As with sea-level rise and coastal flooding, we are already locked into large increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme humid heat events, and the risk is much larger than most people appreciate.”