Fires, Floods, and Scorchers: Earth Destroys Yet Another Heat Record
As more than 100,000 Americans flee destructive wildfires in California and floods in Louisiana, earth sends yet another reminder that the worst is yet to come: a new record for planet-wide heat.
Last month wasn’t just the hottest July on record for the surface of earth. It continued the longest-ever streak of record-breaking months—15, according to data released on Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). July followed the hottest June, May, April, March, February, January, December, November, October, and September, along with last August, July, June, and May.
The extremes of recent months are such that we're only midway into 2016, and there’s already a greater than 99 percent likelihood that this year will go down as the hottest on record, according to Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. NASA and NOAA maintain independent records of the earth’s temperatures, and both agree that last month was a scorcher. "July 2016 was absolutely the hottest month since the instrumental records began," Schmidt wrote on Twitter.
The interactive chart below shows earth’s warming climate, measured by land and sea, dating back to 1880.
In Baton Rouge, La., days of heavy rainfall caused water to overrun levees along several tributaries this week. About 40,000 homes in southeastern Louisiana have been affected by the floods, and at least 11 people have died. In California, more than 80,000 people fled out-of-control wildfires after the state's fifth year of drought turned forests into tinderboxes. Wildfire season typically doesn't begin until fall.
The July heat was experienced differently across the globe but was felt to some degree almost everywhere. The dark red swaths on the map below show areas that set new records.
Some of this is still the result of El Niño, which releases heat from the Pacific that typically lingers for months after the underlying conditions subside. Last year's powerful El Niño may soon shift to a cooling La Niña, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The agency gives a 55 percent to 60 percent chance of a La Niña pattern developing in the fall or winter. That, however, doesn’t change earth’s long-term trajectory.
This year is on track to be the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record. So far, 15 of the hottest 16 years ever measured have come in the 21st century. Results from the world’s chief monitoring agencies vary slightly, but all agree that the extremes of 2016 are unrivaled—for now.
Watch Next: The Science Behind Climate Change