August 2016 was the hottest month

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The record: August 2016 was the hottest month measured since contemporary records began in 1880, according to a NASA analysis. It was not only the hottest August ever, but also it ties July 2016 as the hottest month ever—an extraordinary occurrence.

In other words, you just lived through the hottest month in meteorological history and likely in human history. And then you did it again.

The August record was last broken in: 2014.

Why it’s so scary: There are three big reasons.

First, it’s the 11th straight month to break the previous monthly heat record, according to NASA. In other words, in 2015, the hottest October ever took place, and it was followed by the hottest November ever, and then by the hottest December ever—and this sequence continued right up to the present.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keeps separate records, and its streak of record-breaking months stretches even further back in time: Every month since May 2015 has been the hottest version of that month ever, according to the agency. (NOAA and NASA’s models vary in how they estimate weather where there are few sensors, such as the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.)

Second, August’s record essentially ensures that 2016 will be the warmest year on record. 2016 could wind up being as much as 1 degree Celsius hotter than the pre-industrial temperature average. This is a stark accomplishment when you consider that the nations of the world committed last year to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. We are two-thirds of the way there already.

This animation of every previous year’s temperature record highlights just how anomalous 2016 is:

Third, it’s scary for reasons unrelated to this particular record. When I talked to Gavin Schmidt, the director of the main NASA climate model, he downplayed any one particular record. “Whether one year is 0.1 degree warmer than any other—it doesn’t mean too much,” he told me. “The main issue is the longterm trend shows the planet is 1 degree Celsius, almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than it was during the 19th century. That has a very large impact on polar ice, on agriculture, on coastal erosion, on water safety. It’s a century-long trend at this point.”

He went on: “That this is the hottest July ever, followed by the hottest August ever, is interesting but it’s not significant. If it had happened differently or not at all, the longterm warming trend would be the same. We like anniversaries and records, but what the world is doing while we talk is changing. And that’s the big takeaway.”

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Third, it’s scary for reasons unrelated to this particular record. When I talked to Gavin Schmidt, the director of the main NASA climate model, he downplayed any one particular record. “Whether one year is 0.1 degree warmer than any other—it doesn’t mean too much,” he told me. “The main issue is the longterm trend shows the planet is 1 degree Celsius, almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than it was during the 19th century. That has a very large impact on polar ice, on agriculture, on coastal erosion, on water safety. It’s a century-long trend at this point.”

He went on: “That this is the hottest July ever, followed by the hottest August ever, is interesting but it’s not significant. If it had happened differently or not at all, the longterm warming trend would be the same. We like anniversaries and records, but what the world is doing while we talk is changing. And that’s the big takeaway.”

The record: July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to NASA. Not just the most anomalously warm month, or the hottest July ever recorded—the hottest month as measured by the thermometer since 1880, when modern climate records began. Last month, the average temperature across Earth’s land and oceans was 0.84 degrees Celsius (1.51 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average.

This record was last broken: Last year. Before that, you have to go back to July 1998, the wake of the last major El Niño. July is generally the hottest month of the year, so in a warm year, it tends to be the hottest ever measured. And 2016 has been an unusually warm year: July 2016 is likely to be the 15th consecutive month that has broken its own previous temperature record in NOAA’s data. That is: Every month since May 2015 has been the hottest version of itself ever recorded.

Why it’s so scary: Because 2016 already looks really, really hot. The first seven months of the year—January to July—constitute the hottest January to July ever recorded, beating a record last set in 2010. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA, said there was a “99 percent chance” that 2016 would break an annual heat record.

At some point later this year, these records will likely taper off. Heat records so far in 2016 have been juiced by El Niño, an unusually warm pattern in the Pacific Ocean that itself might have been addled by climate change. But even so: 2016 simply has no precedent in the record books.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/july-2016-was-the-hottest-month-ever-recorded/496016/


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