NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) released its report and analysis of October land and sea temperatures on November 19 — and it isn’t good.
At least if you believe, as most scientists do, that global warming is a serious problem.
You pick the category and the answer is: Hottest ever. And the trend is not in the right direction: October’s departure from the long-term average set a new record for any month in the 1630 months since meteorologists began keeping track.
Virtually any extrapolation leads to the conclusion that containing global temperatures to a two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) rise from pre-industrial levels — the threshold, according to a majority of experts, for potentially catastrophic climate change — is virtually impossible.
This news comes as representatives of 190 nations are preparing to meet in Paris to try to solve the problem — a problem that apparently is getting worse. Let’s look at the figures.
How Hot Was October, 2015?
The headline is not that October was hotter than the 20th century average. Nor that it was the hottest October on record. The real news is that October’s departure from average was a record 0.98° Celsius (C) — a full 0.07° C higher than the departure of the previous record-holder — you might have guessed it was September, 2015. The only factor that offers some hope that things aren’t as bad as the numbers make them seem is that this is an El Niño year.
Here are the pertinent numbers:
- October averaged 14.98° C (59.86° F) over global land and sea.
- The departure from the 20th century average was 0.98° C (1.76° F).
- October was the sixth consecutive record-breaking month.
- The departure from average was the largest for any month in the 136 year (1,630 month) record.
- It was the hottest October for land temperature, sea temperature, and combined land and sea temperature.
- It was the hottest October in the northern hemisphere and in the southern hemisphere.
October was REALLY hot.
October’s Heat Was Not Distributed Evenly (Never Is). Where Was It Hottest (And Coldest)?
To get a feel for temperature relative to normal, it’s best to use the percentile analysis. October’s analysis shows that there was record warmth over a large part of the earth, but it was also colder than normal in a few places:
- There was an arc of record warmth from southern Australia and the adjacent southern Indian Ocean through the equatorial Indian Ocean and much of southern Africa.
- Most of northern South America was record warm.
- Much of the subtropical Atlantic Ocean was record warm.
- There was record warm water in the subtropical eastern Pacific stretching up to the northern California coast.
- The northeastern Atlantic Ocean and the southern tip of South America continued last month’s trend of much below normal.
One change from the past couple of years is the return to near-normal water temperature in the Gulf of Alaska. This pool, which some misguided meteorologists named “The Blob,” has been blamed, at least to some extent, for the California drought. The moderating of temperatures in the northeast Pacific makes it all the more likely that rains, normally associated with El Niño, will return to California this winter.
The Top Twenty-five Greatest Monthly Departures From Normal Since 1880
Here are some rankings from the top 25 monthly departures from average in the 1630 months (135 years) of observations:
- October’s 0.98° C surpassed September’s 0.91°F for the greatest departure.
- The top three departures and six of the top seven have come in 2015.
- Every month so far in 2015 is in the top 25.
It’s hard to look at these numbers and not be concerned that the temperature is rising at an increasing rate.
Fun With Statistics: Where Is The Temperature Going?
Decoded Science has taken pains to point out that statistics can be misleading in many ways. But that won’t stop us from presenting them. We try to do so in as straightforward and unbiased a way as possible.
Beginning with the August report, we extrapolated the average land and sea temperatures from past years to the current year to see what the temperature would be 100 years from now. Both August’s and September’s data showed that the rate of temperature increase is itself increasing. October is no different.
Again, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the rate at which temperature is increasing is itself increasing. But let’s dig a little deeper and be as conservative as possible.
This is an El Niño year, so let’s compare this October with past El Niño Octobers and other years that will give us the smallest possible rates of temperature increase:
Period (Oct. to Oct.) Temperature increase per 100 years (°C) Extrapolated temperature in 2115 (°C, °F)
1941 to 2015 0.9 15.9, 60.6
1997 (El Niño) to 2015 1.9 16.9, 62.4
2003 to 2015 2.2 17.2, 63.0
2008 to 2015 4.4 19.4, 66.9
Once again, it appears as though the rate of temperature increase is going up.
And just for fun, let’s see what the temperature would be if we extrapolate from September to October of this year: If the temperature keeps climbing at the rate it climbed in the past month, the average global land and sea temperature in October of 2015 will be ninety-nine (99) degrees Celsius, or 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
The expectation is that as El Niño peaks, probably in January, the extrapolations will look more reasonable. But there is also the possibility, still small, that runaway greenhouse warming has started. Such a process long ago engulfed Earth’s sister planet Venus, where the surface temperature is now 462° C (864° F).
Year-To-Date Is Also Hottest Ever By Any Metric
The first ten months of 2015 have been the warmest of any January to October period by a wide margin. The year will undoubtedly be the warmest ever.
Though the warmth is not spread entirely evenly, the period was warmest ever for:
- Overall land and sea
- Overall land
- Overall sea
- Overall northern hemisphere
- Northern hemisphere land
- Northern hemisphere sea
- Overall southern hemisphere
- Southern hemisphere land
- Southern hemisphere sea
Can This Uptick In Temperatures Be Just A Reflection Of El Niño?
There is no question that El Niño is having an effect on global temperatures, especially sea temperatures. But the corollary is that, as many scientists suspect and observations confirm, some heat related to global warming is stored in the oceans and could be released at any time — a potential perpetual El Niño spreading around the seven seas.
If the October 2015 global temperature report doesn’t spur action at the Climate Conference, I suspect nothing will.