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Inescapable? No matter what, it's looking like 2014 will be the hottest year ever recorded

Record Lows through Record Highs for Jan-Nov 2014. Credit: NOAA

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, January 5, 2015, 10:00 AM - We're approaching the end of 2014, and it doesn't look like we'll be able to escape the inevitable. This year is a hair's breadth away from setting a brand new record for hottest year on record, continuing the trend of anthropogenic global warming and further fueling man-made climate change.

North America certainly hasn't been having the warmest of years so far in 2014, that's for sure. The outbreak of the polar vortex in early January. The months of 'amplified flow' that followed in the aftermath. A fairly disappointing summer and a chilly fall. However, far from setting the trend on this, North America has really been out of the loop when it comes to global temperatures.

RELATED: Amplified Flow Turns Up the Volume on Active Weather

As it is, temperatures elsewhere around the globe have been more than making up for the cooler year across Canada and the United States. So much so that there have already been five months this year that topped their respective charts for warmest month on record - May, June, August, September and October. The trend has been so clear that forecasters have been calling it since August, saying, "If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest year on record."

Based on NASA's records so far this year, it's easy to see why.

Annual temperature anomalies, compared to the 1981-2010 average, in degrees Celsius, for Dec 2013 to Nov 2014 (meteorological winter to meteorological winter). Credit: NASA/GISS

The below average temperatures for North America stand out pretty well against the rest of the globe, and there were only a few other regions that joined it, compared to the warmth experienced by the rest of the planet.

This is in relation to the most recent 30 year average, from 1981-2010. Scientists move the average up periodically, to continue to show the trends in a more contemporary sense. However, the difference is even more profound if you compare current temperatures to the average from the 30 years prior.

Annual temperature anomalies, compared to the 1951-1980 average, in degrees Celsius, for Dec 2013 to Nov 2014 (meteorological winter to meteorological winter). Credit: NASA/GISS

Not only does this illustrate how unusual this year's cooler weather over North America has been, but it emphasizes just how much hotter the rest of the world has been as well.

RELATED: The Science Behind the Weather: December 1 is the first day of 'meteorological winter'

Looking at global temperatures compared to the 1951-1980 average is fairly important too, as the graph below shows:

Global Temperature Anomalies, compared to the 20th century average. Credit: NOAA/NCDC

That period is fairly representative of the entire 20th century, with a good mix of warmer-than-average and cooler-than-average years during that 30-year block of time. Before that, from 1880 into the late 1930s, it was exclusively cooler than that average. After the 1980s, up until the present time, it has been exclusively warmer. The black trend line is hardly needed to point out what the world is going through, and claims that 'global warming stopped in 1998' ring pretty hollow when we rack up yet another warmest year on record, and 1998 is the only 20th century year still on the top-ten list of warmest years on record (the rest are all from 2002 on).

RELATED: NASA reveals the complex hidden secrets of Greenland's ice sheets

The year isn't over yet!

With over a week to go before the end of December, the official tally isn't in, and we'll be well into January before the reports come out. However, what we're seeing so far, just up to the end of November, is quite telling.

According to NOAA:


The first 11 months of 2014 was the warmest such period on record, with a combined global land and ocean average surface temperature of 0.68 degrees C above the 20th century average of 13.9 degrees C, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.01 degrees C.


Here's the map of those first 11 months, from NOAA:


Year-to-date Jan-Nov 2014 Global Temperature Anomalies. Credit: NOAA/NCDC

Using those records, and running a few numbers, we really don't need December's temperature values to come in reveal the most likely outcome.

2014 cumulative temperature anomalies compared to the previous top-five hottest years. Credit: NOAA/NCDC

The above graph compares year-to-date temperature anomalies, month-by-month, for 2014 vs the official top five warmest years on record (according to NOAA) - 2010, 2005, 1998, 2003 and 2013. Therefore, according to NOAA, the first point in each line on the graph is the average temperature anomaly for January, the second point is the average for January and February, the third for Jan, Feb and March, etc. This is why 2010 still comes out higher, even for the months where 2014 has already ranked highest, since the first part of 2010 was so much warmer than the same period in 2014.

The dashed lines at the end of the black 2014 line take us along five different scenarios that the NOAA scientists have plotted out:

  • The orange line represents each month of the year coming out as the warmest. Only five months have done this so far, but if you tack that line on after November, the result is that the year finishes at 0.68 degrees C above the 20th century average, and it's the warmest year on record.
  • The purple line makes each month the third warmest on record. April through October of this year have already matched or exceeded that level. The result of following that line - the warmest year on record, at 0.67 degrees above the 20th century average.
  • The light blue line sets all months of this year as the average of the past 10 warmest of that month on record. The result? We're still at 0.67 degrees C over the 20th century average at year's end, and still the warmest year on record.
  • The dark blue line goes even further, just giving each month of 2014 a temperature that matches the average of that month from 2001 to 2013 (thus cutting out some of those warmer years from the late '90s). Result - still warmest year on record, and still 0.67 degrees C over the 20th century average.
  • The green line, lastly, goes down to the bottom of each month's 'top ten' list and takes that temperature, thus giving the 'coolest' scenario for December. Result? If you hadn't guessed, 2014 still beats out 2010, to become the warmest year we've had, globally, since record-keeping began back in 1880.

2014 turning out to be the hottest on record so far is fairly significant, because, as NOAA points out:


The years 2013 and 2014 are the only years on this list not to begin during a mature El Niño event. The years 1998 and 2010, each of which became the warmest year on record at the time, ended the year in a strong La Niña event, as evidenced by the relative fading of global average temperature later in the year.


So, it's looking like December will need to be fairly extreme in its own right, with temperatures well below average across the globe, for 2014 to avoid becoming the new record-setter.

(H/T to Mashable's Andrew Freedman)

Update (Jan 7, 2015): The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is the first to call it. As of this week, they announced that 2014 is officially the hottest year on record.


According to the JMA website:


The annual anomaly of the global average surface temperature in 2014 (i.e. the average of the near-surface air temperature over land and the SST) was +0.27oC above the 1981-2010 average (+0.63oC above the 20th century average), and was the warmest since 1891.


That +0.27oC temperature anomaly beats out their previous warmest year on record - 1998 - by 0.05oC (NASA and NOAA currently count 2010 as the hottest year on record, so far, with 1998 ranked as 3rd).

Something important to note from that statement: this +0.27oC is only in reference to the latest 30-year global temperature average. Comparing this to the entire 20th century average reveals a much higher jump in warming.

Below is an animation, showing the global surface temperature anomalies for each of the JMA's top five warmest years - 2005 (+0.17oC), 2010 & 2013 (tied at +0.20oC), 1998 (+0.22oC) and 2014 (+0.27oC).

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