The Year in Heat: World on Track for Third-Hottest on Record

Photographer: Max Whittaker/Prime for The Washington Post via Getty Images
A tractor kicks up dust at a farm in Maxwell, California.

If you live in California, Australia or Scandinavia, 2014 may feel like the hottest year on record. Not quite; on a global scale, it’s “only” third-hottest.

The global average surface temperature for January through July was 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.66 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average, tying with 2002 as the third warmest in records going back to 1880, according to National Climatic Data Center data released today.

Hottest Years on Record

The greatest share of global warming in recent years has been absorbed by the oceans. The beginnings of an El Nino warming pattern in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year threatened to stir up some of the heat. That hasn’t happened yet, and the forecast has been reduced to a 65 percent chance of a mild to moderate El Nino developing later this year. The last strong El Nino event was in 1998, the hottest year on record.

Thirteen of the 14 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. The recent clustering of heat records are one of many signs of the warming climate (click here for more). To put the last 135 years of global temps into perspective, the chart below stacks each year onto the same timeline. The five hottest years are in red: 2010, 2005, 1998, 2013 and 2003. This year, to date, is highlighted in green.

Stack of Broken Records

Click on the image above for a version with better resolution. Source: NOAA

Click on the image above for a version with better resolution. Source: NOAA

The global heat map of 2014 has been marked by significant variation in temperatures, particularly in the U.S., where the eastern half of the country has been unusually cool while the western states bake. California has had its hottest year on record, by far, and is in its third year of drought. A few highlights from July’s extremes around the world:

  • Drought conditions worsened across the U.S. West, with 58 percent of California suffering exceptional drought. At the same time, Indiana and Arkansas had their coolest July on record.
  • Every state and territory in Australia was hotter than normal for the month. It’s also been unusually dry for most of the country; Queensland fell 86 percent short of its average rainfall.
  • Across the continent of Africa, mean temperatures were much warmer than average. Countries in the West broke historic heat records.
  • Records were also broken in Scandinavia. Norway had its hottest month ever, exceeding the previous hottest month by a full degree Celsius -- a very large departure for a monthly average.

The world is hot, and getting hotter. Here’s how 2014 looks laid out on a world map.

Sea of Red

More from Tom Randall:

Follow @tsrandall on Twitter for more broken records.

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