It's Official: 2017 Was the Hottest Year Without an El Niño
The United Nations announced Thursday that 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño event kicking up global annual temperatures.
Last year's average surface temperatures—driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions—was 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, putting the world on course to breach the internationally agreed "1.5°C" temperature barrier to avoid dangerous climate change set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Significantly, the Paris agreement could be negatively impacted by President Donald Trump and his administration's rash of anti-environmental policies. Trump, who famously denies climate change and wants to promote U.S. fossil fuels, plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan that limits power plant emissions and intends to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark climate accord.
The UN report was based on a consolidated analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) of five leading international datasets.
Other international organizations have also placed 2017 as either the second or third hottest year behind 2016, which happened to be bolstered by El Niño. (Warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean during an El Niño can boost warming effects around the globe). On Thursday, NASA ranked last year was the second warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which uses a different analytical method, ranked it third.
Rising global temperatures are already creating impacts around the world. Fire seasons are longer and more intense,… https://t.co/e7cb5NtSxF— NASA GISS (@NASA GISS)1516289987.0
However, as WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas pointed out, "Temperatures tell only a small part of the story."
The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, he explained. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have all been during this century.
The warming in the Arctic, which is heating up at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet, "will have profound and long-lasting repercussions on sea levels, and on weather patterns in other parts of the world," Taalas said, noting that the warmth in 2017 was accompanied by extreme weather in many countries around the world.
"The United States of America had its most expensive year ever in terms of weather and climate disasters, whilst other countries saw their development slowed or reversed by tropical cyclones, floods and drought," he said.
NOAA said earlier this month that weather and climate-related disasters cost a record $306 billion in 2017. The federal agency listed several noteworthy events, including the wildfires in the west, with total costs of $18 billion, tripling the previous U.S. annual wildfire cost record. The year's string of devastating hurricanes were also very expensive. Hurricane Harvey had total costs of $125 billion. Hurricanes Maria and Irma had total costs of $90 billion and $50 billion, respectively.
California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.
High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.
Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.
California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.
As reported by AccuWeather:
In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.
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