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Last Year: The Warmest On Record (Again)

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Last Year: The Warmest On Record (Again)


Last Year: The Warmest On Record (Again)

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Every January, for the past decade, you've heard the same news story that the last year was one of the warmest on the planet since 1880 when record keeping began in earnest. Well, it's January. And, yes, last year was one of the warmest since 1880. In fact, 2010 ties 2005 for the hottest year in historical record.

NPR's Richard Harris has the latest addition of this story.

RICHARD HARRIS: This year it was Deke Arndt's turn to break the news in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual teleconference, and you already know what he announced.

DEKE ARNDT: This continues a trend that has gone on for several decades. This is the 34th consecutive year with temperatures above the 20th century average.

HARRIS: In fact, you need to go back to 1976 to find a year with below-average global temperatures, as measured on thermometers around the world.

But enough about heat already, what about rain and snow?

ARNDT: Precipitation is highly variable from place to place, so there were lots of dry areas, lots of wet areas. But when we average those out, it was also the wettest year on record.

HARRIS: Think of the devastating floods in Pakistan.

Now, warm air can hold more water, but Arndt can't say whether there's a direct link between the record-tying heat and the record-breaking precipitation. And these are global averages. Arndt said the story was different for those of us in the United States.

ARNDT: Both the temperature and precipitation were above normal. It was the 23rd warmest year on record in the United States. It was the 36th wettest year on record. These both fall into the upper third of the United States climate history, which dates back to 1895.

HARRIS: Of course, there's a lot of variation across the globe, so it's not at all surprising to see records in some places but not in others. Last year's global record was due in part to an unusually hot Pacific Ocean, caused by a weather pattern called El Nino.

John Christy, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, sees the same general warming trend in his measurements of global temperature. Those are based on satellite measurements of the planet's air from the surface up to 35,000 feet.

JOHN CHRISTY: Well, the take-home lesson is if you have an El Nino, you're going to have a hot year. But I just finished shoveling eight inches of global warming off my driveway this Monday here in Alabama. So whatever the globe is doing, your local weather can have a completely different picture, that's for sure.

HARRIS: And as for the long-term global trend? David Easterling from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, says that's our doing - global warming, driven by our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

DAVID EASTERLING: Although we can't attribute any individual event, such as the Russian heat wave, to climate change, it's always important to keep in mind that the probability of these kinds of events do increase as the climate warms.

HARRIS: And, yes, that's the same conclusion you heard from the world's most respected climate scientists in 2010, 2009, 2008 and so on. The story's not changing.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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