Earth experienced 6th hottest year on record in 2021, but 4th hottest for United States

The year 2021 was marked not only by extreme weather events nationwide and in the West — it was also the Earth’s sixth-hottest year on record, federal officials announced Thursday. Last year’s average ocean and land surface temperatures were 1. 51 degrees higher than the 20th century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a report. A separate analysis from NASA also concluded that 2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record and tied with 2018. Experts from both agencies stated that the global warming trend was mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s obvious that each of these past four decades have been warmer than the one before it,” stated Russell Vose of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, chief of climate monitoring. “Of course all of this is driven by increasing concentrations of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.”

Last year was the 45th consecutive year that saw global temperatures rising above the average, meaning that the planet has not had a colder-than-average year since 1976, according to the report. What’s more, the years 2013 through 2021 all rank among the 10 warmest years since record keeping began in 1880.

Vose said there’s a “99% chance” that 2022 will also rank in the top 10. The punchline is that it doesn’t matter what analysis you use — all tell you that the Earth has warmed quite a bit over the past century,” said he.

The United States overall fared even worse than the globe, with 2021 ranking as the fourth-hottest year on record in the contiguous U.S., according to NOAA.

Many of the acute warming effects were felt in the West, where exceptional drought, extreme wildfires and simmering heat waves coincided with California’s hottest summer on record. A heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in Juni shattered all-time high temperatures records in Washington State and Oregon. The Dixie fire, which was started in July in Plumas, California, became the second-largest wildfire.

The region was not the only one to experience this. Global warming also contributed to significant climate anomalies throughout the country and the globe, including major flooding in Germany , sandstorms and plagues in Beijing, East Africa, and East Africa.

“Unfortunately, we certainly expect to see more of these types of extremes in a warming world,” Vose said. “Some of the events this year were probably not even possible without global warming — or at least they were made much worse by it.”

20 separate billion-dollar disasters occurred in the U.S. in 2021, according to the NOAA.

20 separate billion-dollar disasters occurred in the U.S. in 2021, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


In the United States alone, there were 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that killed at least 688 people — more than twice the previous year’s death toll of 262, according to the report. Damage from these U.S. disasters totaled about $145 billion.

Among those anomalies were the Texas freeze in February, one of the coldest U.S. events in more than 30 years, and Hurricane Ida, which battered the Northeast with unprecedented rainfall in September and resulted in dozens of deaths. And in December, an outbreak of nearly 70 tornadoes left at least 90 dead across several southeastern states. One tornado was on the ground for nearly 166 miles. While researchers can’t prove that these tornadoes were caused by rising temperatures, they believe global warming has an impact on many extreme weather phenomena.

“Many heat waves, severe rainfalls, and flooding events will be found to be caused by human-induced heating,” Gavin Schmidt, director at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said.

An independent analysis by nonprofit research organization Berkeley Earth also found that 2021 was the sixth-warmest year since 1850.

Their report estimated that 1.8 billion people experienced a record-high annual average in 2021, including most of the population of China. A total of 25 countries saw new record-high averages.

Meanwhile, scientists from Europe’s Copernicus observation program ranked 2021 as the globe’s fifth warmest on record.

Officials said last year wasn’t quite as hot as 2020 — which tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record — in part because of a La Nina pattern that persisted through much of 2021. La Nina can bring some cool ocean waters to surface, which can help to lower global temperatures.

But overall ocean heat content — which describes the amount of heat stored in the upper levels of the ocean — surpassed that of 2020 to reach a record high last year, according to the NOAA report. In the past seven years, seven of the highest ocean heat contents occurred.

” The point is that the oceans store a lot heat,” Vose stated.

Also of concern is the continued loss of Arctic sea ice. The Arctic’s temperature rises are three times faster that the global average, Schmidt stated. This is because the continued loss of Arctic sea ice is also a concern. Scientists and officials around the world have been urging a global temperature limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit for years. Vose said there is now a 50/50 chance that at least one year during this decade will reach that threshold, and that average global temperatures will almost certainly exceed it in the 2030s or early 2040s.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re approach that point, and the trajectory is unlikely to change as long as we keep emitting greenhouse gases,” he said.

Greenhouse gas mitigation efforts could help stall the arrival of that moment, but probably cannot reverse it altogether, because carbon dioxide emissions can linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Schmidt stated that if we reach net zero for carbon dioxide and reduce other greenhouse gases, we can stabilize the temperatures. “It’s not going to cool, but it wouldn’t keep getting worse.”

While the 1.5-degree Celsius limit is significant, it’s not as if the effects of climate change haven’t already begun, he said, noting that more effects are likely in the years to come. Schmidt stated that we will experience more severe heat waves, more intense rains and more coastal flooding. “It may not be the Pacific Northwest next year, but it will be somewhere, and we obviously have to be prepared.”

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