ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Last year was the second-hottest ever recorded. It's the latest scientific confirmation that the planet is getting steadily hotter. And NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports that this fact is more and more obvious to humans going about their daily lives.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: 2019 was the second-hottest year on record, according to the latest data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Records go back more than a century. So 2019 is the second-hottest. 2016 was the hottest, and the third-hottest was 2015. Gavin Schmidt is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
GAVIN SCHMIDT: The fact is the planet is warming. And every year, we add one extra data point to this graph. The main thing here is not really the ranking but is the consistency of the long-term trends that we're seeing.
HERSHER: The long-term trend goes back decades. The 2010s were the hottest decade ever. Before that, the 2000s had that title, and so on. The Earth is getting steadily hotter every decade. Today the planet is about one degree Celsius warmer than it was in the mid-20th century. A 2018 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be catastrophic for millions of people.
SCHMIDT: The warming up until now, you know, since the 1970s, has been quite close to linear. If you kind of extrapolate that forward, you would imagine that we would cross 1.5 in around 2035. But of course, that depends on what we do with emissions.
HERSHER: Human emissions of greenhouse gases are the overwhelming driver of global warming. And right now, global emissions are rising. The U.S. has admitted the most total CO2 of any country. The data released today also illustrate how different regions are being affected. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. Hot ocean water helped power dangerous cyclones and disrupted fisheries. In the continental U.S., rain patterns are changing. Deke Arndt works on forecasting at NOAA. He says hotter temperatures are making droughts more severe.
DEKE ARNDT: A warmer atmosphere is a thirstier atmosphere.
HERSHER: Sucking up moisture and then dumping rain all at once.
ARNDT: We're seeing the largest events getting larger.
HERSHER: That means more flood risk. For example, in 2019, big rainfall events drove record-breaking floods along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. And as the Earth keeps getting hotter, all of these trends will keep getting more pronounced.
Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.