From Earth’s great oceans to its iciest arctic outpost and most tropical island, 2015 will go down in history as the globe’s hottest year on record, and not by a little.
It crushed it.
The official heat designation came Wednesday in a NOAA study that found the average temperature for land and sea last year was 1.62 degrees above the 20th century average.
That’s the highest among all years since records began in 1880 and beats the previous record-warm year of 2014 by 0.29 degrees.
NASA, which also released its own study Wednesday coming to the same conclusion of planetary warmth, said the new record “shattered” that of 2014.
“2014 was a record year, but only by a little bit,” said Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “But 2015 has totally knocked that into the grass.”
While 0.29 degrees may seem minimal, on a global scale it’s massive. Consider that the planet has warmed only between 8 and 9 degrees since the ice age 20,000 years ago, according to NASA.
“That doesn’t seem like much, but it was a totally different planet then,” Schmidt said. “What we are expecting in the next century is to be 8 to 9 degrees warmer than today, and that too will be a different planet.”
NASA’s measurements found Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.8 degrees since the late 19th century.
The critical heat milestone came as no surprise to scientists, who said in the fall that December would have to be extraordinarily cold for the year not to finish off record warm.
But December held with a multi-month trend and was the warmest December on record at 2 degrees higher than the monthly average.
“The reason why we record what’s going on at the surface is that’s where we live, that’s where we work, and that’s where we grow our food, so there is a critical impact as to surface temperatures,” said Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
The Florida Climate Center noted that the state’s super-warm and wet December resulted in some crop loss because of flooding, that bacteria soft rot and root rot were evident because of high temperatures and humidity, and that while some crops grew faster in the warm weather, they did so at the expense of quality and yield.
“If one word can describe South Florida’s weather in 2015, it would be HOT,” wrote Miami-based NWS meteorologist Robert Molleda in a year-end report. “It will go down as the hottest year on record at all four main climate sites.”
The year-long average temperature in West Palm Beach was 78 degrees, 2.6 degrees above the norm in records dating back to 1888.
Scientists say this year’s powerful El Nino is partly to blame for the warm temperatures.
El Nino is a periodic warming of the water across the eastern path of the Pacific Ocean. The warm water makes radical shifts to rainfall patterns, suppressing showers over Indonesia and moving them to the eastern part of the Pacific.
There, strong thunderstorms form, which influence wind patterns in the upper atmosphere, reducing wind shear in the Pacific and increasing it in the Atlantic. That strong wind shear in the Atlantic is what worked to cut down hurricanes last season.
In the winter, El Nino pumps energy into the subtropical jet stream, which increases storminess in Florida.
But Schmidt said El Nino is not the only factor.
“Global warming is real and it’s been caused by us, and a record-warm year is just one manifestation of that,” Schmidt said. “It’s greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. Those are rising because we are burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate.”