November 2016 was not the warmest November on record.
This is not a surprise, given a La Niña event that has cooled the Pacific Ocean by several degrees. But November 2016’s mean global temperature was still more than a degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the temperature of pre-industrial Novembers.
Looking at the year-to-date, which is a more reliable measure of the long-term trend, 2016 is on track to pass 2015 as the warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. The average temperature of the last two years is way ahead of that of any other two-year period.
By the most reasonable extrapolation of the temperature data, the earth will surpass the two degrees Celsius increase — which most scientists consider to be the threshold for potentially catastrophic changes in the weather — in less than half a century.
November 2016 By The Numbers
The following places were more than 5 C (9 F) above normal for the month:
- The northern Great Plains of the United States
- Central Canada from the US border to the far north
- Far northeastern Russia
The following additional places were more than 2 C (3.5 F) above normal for the month:
- Most of the United States
- Most of Canada
- Extreme north-central and northeastern Russia
- Much of central Africa
- Scattered locations in southeast Asia
- East-central South America
- Parts of the sub-tropical Pacific Ocean, both north and south
- The Atlantic Ocean off New England and Nova Scotia
The following place had temperatures more than 5 C (9 F) below normal:
- Northwest Asiatic Russia
The following places were more than 2 C (3.5 F) below normal:
- Nearly all of Russia
- Bolivia in South America
- Part of the tropical Pacific
- Part of the north temperate Pacific
There was a significant change in the pattern of warm and cold in November compared to October. In the previous month, a stratified zonal (west to east) pattern was evident, with bands of warm and cold circling the globe. In November, North America was very warm and Eurasia was very cold. The zonal pattern was replaced by a meridional one (north to south).
The jet stream takes various shapes and frequently alternates between strongly zonal and strongly meridional. But meteorologists are keeping a wary eye out for changes that could signify a substantial reconfiguration in the overall circulation pattern.
Where Does November 2016 Stand On A Historical Basis?
November 2016 was the fifth warmest in the historical record that dates to 1880. The land surface was 12th warmest and the ocean second warmest. Both hemispheres showed similar patterns, with warmer oceans and cooler land surfaces relative to normal.
Year-to-date Continues To Set Records For Warmth
Comparisons over longer periods of time are more likely to reflect long-term trends than a single month. 2016 is still well ahead of 2015, the currently warmest year, and it would take a rather unexpected drop in temperature in December to keep 2016 from becoming the warmest year. But whether or not 2016 surpasses 2015, taken together they comprise the warmest two-year period by a wide margin.
As of now, year-to-date 2016 is warmest in all categories measured: overall; by hemisphere; and by land and sea.
November 2016 Precipitation
Precipitation varies greatly from month to month, even between places just a few miles apart. Examining statistics for a full season can reveal a bit more. September to November (meteorological fall in the northern hemisphere) shows the following anomalies:
- A long band of above normal precipitation stretched from eastern Europe through central Asia to Japan.
- The southeast US suffered a historic drought which led to disastrous fires. The drought has been alleviated by recent rain.
- The years-long drought in the American southwest continues, and is causing concern that it represents a true change in weather patterns.
What’s The Most Reasonable Way To Predict The Temperature In The Future?
Predicting the temperature more than a few hours in advance is often a fool’s game. So I’m ready to play the fool.
The temperature is directly related to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, both theoretically and observationally. At the start of the industrial revolution, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 stood at 280 parts per million (ppm). It has recently left 400 ppm in the rear view mirror. Graphs of both carbon dioxide and temperature not only show an increase with time, but an acceleration of the increase. Let us make the reasonable assumption that despite the best efforts of politicians, carbon dioxide emissions will continue at a steady pace. We can then assume that temperature will continue to rise at a steady rate — for example, the average of the last 18 years.
Why use a time interval of 18 years? Because that was the time between the two most recent El Niños, which have almost identical ocean temperature profiles. From 1998 to 2016, the temperature rose about 0.37 C (0.66F). That is a rate of one degree Celsius every 49 years. Since temperatures have already risen over one degree Celsius since 1880, there is half a century before temperatures reach the magic 2 C mark.
Roll Over Chuck Berry And Tell Everybody The News: Temperature’s Risin’, Is The Atmosphere Blowin’ a Fuse?
Is it guaranteed that when the temperature reaches 2 C above pre-industrial levels the atmosphere will go berserk? No, of course not. But it might. I’m fond of pointing out that Venus, believed to have been Earth-like at one time, is now a hothouse hell with a surface temperature of 460° C (860° F). Planetary atmospheric circulations, like Chuck Berry’s juke box, can blow a fuse. And they’re are not so easily fixed.