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NOAA: Last Month Was by Far the Planet's Warmest March Since Record Keeping Began
By Jeff Masters and Bob Henson
March 2016 was by far the planet's warmest March since record keeping began in 1880 and was also the warmest month relative to average of any month in the historical record, said the NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information on Tuesday.
In the NOAA database, March 2016 came in a full 1.22 C (2.20 F) warmer than the 20th-century average for March of 12.7 C (54.9 F), as well as 0.32 C (0.58 F) above the previous record for March, set in 2010. This is a huge margin for breaking a monthly global temperature record, as they are typically broken by just a few hundredths of a degree. The margin was just a shade larger than NOAA's previous record for any month of 1.21 C (2.18 F) above average, set in February 2016. NASA also reported the warmest March in its database, with the departure from average in its analysis slightly less than that for February (1.28 C vs. 1.34 C).
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for March 2016, the warmest March for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was observed over most land areas on Earth, with especially warm readings over much of Siberia, central Asia, northern Africa, the eastern U.S., western Canada and Alaska. Photo credit: National Centers for Environmental Information
The past six months [as measured by departure from average in both the NOAA and NASA databases] all set records for their respective months as the warmest since 1880. The impressive global warmth in recent months is due to the steady build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases due to human activities, plus a spike due to a large amount of heat being released from waters in the Eastern Pacific due to the powerful 2015-16 El Niño event. This event peaked in December, but the warmest atmospheric readings (relative to average) usually lag the peak oceanic temperatures by a few months.
NOAA's global surface temperature for the year so far (January-March 2016) is an astounding 0.29 C (0.52 F) warmer than the previous record, set in 2015 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Departure from average for the global January-through-March temperature for the years 1880 - 2016. This year has seen by far the warmest temperatures on record for each of the three months. Photo credit: NOAA / National Centers for Environmental Information
March 2016 also marked the eleventh consecutive month that the monthly temperature record was been broken and the sixteenth consecutive month (since December 2014) that the monthly global temperature ranked among the three warmest for its respective month in the NOAA database. Both global ocean and global land temperatures were the warmest on record for any March. Global satellite-measured temperatures in March 2016 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the warmest for any March in the 38-year record and the third-largest warm departure from average any month, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville. This is the sixth consecutive month the University of Alabama Huntsville database has registered a record monthly high.
El Niño Weakens to Moderate Strength
Strong El Niño conditions were observed during March in the equatorial Eastern Pacific, but El Niño is weakening quickly. The event peaked in strength in late November 2015, when the weekly sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the so-called Niño 3.4 region (5 S - 5 N, 120 W - 170 W) peaked at a record 3.1 C above normal. By the week of April 6, the Niño 3.4 SST anomaly had fallen to 1.3 C above average—just below the 1.5 C threshold between "strong" and "moderate"—and it remained at that level on April 13. Temperatures averaged through the upper 300 meters (1,000 feet) of the tropical Pacific have already fallen below the seasonal norm and NOAA expects a transition to neutral conditions during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a 65 percent chance of a transition to La Niña conditions by the August-September-October peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Figure 3. Arctic sea ice age for the week of March 4 - 10 from 1985 to 2016. The oldest ice—at least 5 years or older--is at its smallest level in the satellite record, representing only 3 percent of the total ice cover. Photo credit: NSIDC, courtesy University of Colorado Boulder, M. Tschudi, C. Fowler, J. Maslanik, R. Stewart, W. Meier
Arctic Sea Ice Falls to 2nd Lowest March Extent on Record
Arctic sea ice extent during March 2016 was the second lowest in the 38-year satellite record, just above the record low set in March 2015, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent on March 24 and set a new record for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record. The previous record was set just last year. However, there is little correlation between the maximum winter extent and the minimum summer extent observed in September. The key to getting a low summer ice extent is to get an earlier-than-average start to surface melting. This allows the snow to darken and expose the ice below earlier, which in turn increases the amount of solar heat absorbed, allowing more ice to melt.
Three Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters From Late February Through March 2016
According to the March 2016 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield, two billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the planet in March and a third disaster from late February accumulated enough damage claims to be rated a billion-dollar disaster by the end of March. All of these disasters were severe weather outbreaks in the U.S. So far in 2016, there have been seven billion-dollar weather disasters. This is well ahead of pace of five such disasters in January-March 2013—the year with the most billion-dollar weather disasters on record, with 41. Last year had only two billion-dollar weather disasters through March. Here is the tally of billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2016:
1. Drought, Vietnam: 1/1 - 3/1, $6.7 billion, 0 killed
2. Winter Weather, Eastern U.S.: 1/21 - 1/24, $2.0 billion, 58 killed
3. Winter Weather, East Asia: 1/20 - 1/26, $2.0 billion, 116 killed
4. Drought, Zimbabwe: 1/1 - 3/1, $1.6 billion, 0 killed
5. Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest-Southeast-Northeast U.S.: 3/4 - 3/12, $1.25 billion, 6 killed
6. Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest-Southeast-Northeast U.S.: 2/22 - 2/25, $1.2 billion, 10 killed
7. Severe Weather, U.S.: 3/17 - 3/18, $1.0 billion, 0 killed
And here are the three disasters from late February through the end of March 2016:
Disaster 1. A powerful spring-like winter storm brought severe thunderstorms and heavy snowfall across much of the Central and Eastern U.S. from February 22 - 25, killing ten and injuring dozens more. The National Weather Service confirmed 59 tornado touchdowns, including four rated EF3. Total damage was estimated at $1.2 billion. Photo credit: Jill Nance
Disaster 2. A record-strength upper-level low pressure system that stalled out over Northern Mexico and Southern Texas brought widespread severe weather and at least $1.25 billion in damage to the U.S. from March 4 - 12. In this photo, we see flood damage in Haughton, Louisiana, on March 9, 2016, after rainfall in excess of 20" in a four-day period hit the Shreveport area, bringing historic flooding. Photo credit: Michael Dean Newman
Disaster 3. A stationary front draped over Texas and the Gulf Coast on March 17-18 triggered widespread severe weather. Large hail and damaging winds hit Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. The greatest damage occurred in Dallas-Fort Worth, where tennis ball-sized hail pummeled southern Tarrant County. Parts of southern Mississippi recorded baseball-sized hail. Total economic losses were expected to be $1 billion. In this photo, we see menacing mammatus clouds over Boerne Stage Field, Texas, on March 18. Photo credit: Wunderphotographer agrant414
Notable Global Heat and Cold Marks Set for March 2016
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 45.0 C (113.0 F) at Bokoro, Chad, March 1
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -54.0 C (-65.2 F) at Tsetsen Uul, Mongolia, March 8
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 47.0 C (116.6 F) at Mardie, Australia, March 3
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -72.8 C (-99.0 F) at Pole of Inaccessibility, Antarctica, March 27
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera).
Major Weather Stations That Set (Not Tied) New All-Time Heat or Cold Records in March 2016
Ilorin (Nigeria) max. 40.2 C (104.4 F), March 2
Tabligbo (Togo) max. 41.0 C [105.8 F), March 2
Caracarai (Brazil) max. 39.6 C [103.3 F], March 4
Kannur (India) max. 39.0 C, March 8, revised to 39.1 C [102.4 F] on March 11
La Macarena (Colombia) max. 39.4 C [102.3 F], March 10
Cumaral (Colombia) max. 38.0 C [100.4 F], March 10
Kozhikode (India) max. 38.1 C, March 11, revised to 38.6 C [101.5 F] on March 13
Pointe Canon (Rodrigues Island, Mauritius) max. 34.1 C [93.4 F], March 18
Attapeu (Laos) max. 41.5 C [106.7 F], March 19
Dawei (Myanmar) max. 39.0 C [102.2 F], March 20
Puerto Paez (Colombia) max. 40.4 C [104.7 F], March 20
El Guamo (Colombia) max. 41.4 C [106.5 F], March 23
Magangue (Colombia) max. 40.2 C [104.4 F], March 23
Ahmednagar (India) max. 44.4 C [111.9 F], March 23
Batu Embun (Malaysia) max. 38.5 C [101.3 F], March 25
Hanimadhoo (Maldives) max. 34.5 C [94.1 F], March 30
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera).
Four All-Time National Heat Records and One All-Time Cold Record Set in March 2016
From January through March 2016, four nations or territories tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history and one (Hong Kong) has set an all-time cold temperature record. "All-time" record here refers to the warmest or coldest temperature ever reliably reported in a nation or territory. The period of record varies from country to country and station to station, but it is typically a few decades to a century or more. Most nations do not maintain official databases of extreme temperature records, so the national temperature records reported here are in many cases not official. Our data source is international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, one of the world's top climatologists, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records. Here are 2016's all-time heat and cold records so far:
Botswana set its all-time hottest record on Jan. 7, when the mercury hit 43.8 C (110.8 F) at Maun. The old record was set just the previous day (January 6) with 43.5 C (110.3 F) at Tsabong. The record heat in Botswana during the first week of January was part of a remarkable heat wave that affected much of southern Africa, causing at least $250 million in drought-related damages to South Africa in the month. Mr. Herrera noted in an email to me that temperatures in South Africa at elevations between 1,000 and 1,600 meters were higher than any previous temperatures ever recorded at those altitudes anywhere in the world. The national heat records of Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland might all have fallen were it not for the lack of observing stations in the hottest areas. Lesotho has no weather stations anymore that issue the standard "synoptic" weather observations every six hours; Mozambique and Swaziland have closed all their stations in the hottest areas; and Namibia just closed its Noordower station, which was its hottest station.
Wallis and Futuna Territory (France) set a new territorial heat record with 35.8 C (96.4 F) on January 10 at Futuna Airport. This is the second year in a row that Wallis and Futuna has beaten its all-time heat mark; the previous record was a 35.5 C (95.9 F) reading on January 19, 2015 at the Futuna Airport.
Tonga set its all-time hottest record on February 1, when the mercury hit 35.5 C (95.9 F) at Niuafoou.
Vanuatu in the South Pacific set its all-time national heat record on February 8, when the mercury hit 36.2 C (97.2 F) at Lamap Malekula. The previous record was a 35.7 C (96.3 F) reading just the previous day (February 7) at the Bauerfield Efate Airport. All seven major weather reporting stations in Vanuatu beat or tied their all-time heat records February 7 - 8.
Hong Kong Territory (China) set its all-time coldest mark on January 24, when the mercury dipped to -5.7 C (21.7 F) at Tai Mo Shan.
April is Off to a Sizzling Start
Widespread, intense heat has afflicted a huge swath of the tropics during the first half of April, from Central Africa to the Philippines. The heat wave across Southeast Asia has been particularly extreme—the worst there since at least 1960—with all-time records set at a number of locations. Weather Underground weather historian Chris Burt takes a closer look at the extraordinary heat of April, including two new all-time national records, in his Tuesday blog post.
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By Tara Smith
Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.
Bolsonaro ran for president promising to "integrate the Amazon into the Brazilian economy". Once elected, he slashed the Brazilian environmental protection agency budget by 95 percent and relaxed safeguards for mining projects on indigenous lands. Farmers cited their support for Bolsonaro's approach as they set fires to clear rainforest for cattle grazing.
Bolsonaro's vandalism will be most painful for the indigenous people who call the Amazon home. But destruction of the world's largest rainforest may accelerate climate change and so cause further suffering worldwide. For that reason, Brazil's former environment minister, Marina Silva, called the Amazon fires a crime against humanity.
From a legal perspective, this might be a helpful way of prosecuting environmental destruction. Crimes against humanity are international crimes, like genocide and war crimes, which are considered to harm both the immediate victims and humanity as a whole. As such, all of humankind has an interest in their punishment and deterrence.
Crimes against humanity were first classified as an international crime during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II. Two German Generals, Alfred Jodl and Lothar Rendulic, were charged with war crimes for implementing scorched earth policies in Finland and Norway. No one was charged with crimes against humanity for causing the unprecedented environmental damage that scarred the post-war landscapes though.
Our understanding of the Earth's ecology has matured since then, yet so has our capacity to pollute and destroy. It's now clear that the consequences of environmental destruction don't stop at national borders. All humanity is placed in jeopardy when burning rainforests flood the atmosphere with CO₂ and exacerbate climate change.
Holding someone like Bolsonaro to account for this by charging him with crimes against humanity would be a world first. If successful, it could set a precedent which might stimulate more aggressive legal action against environmental crimes. But do the Amazon fires fit the criteria?
Prosecuting crimes against humanity requires proof of widespread and systematic attacks against a civilian population. If a specific part of the global population is persecuted, this is an affront to the global conscience. In the same way, domestic crimes are an affront to the population of the state in which they occur.
When prosecuting prominent Nazis in Nuremberg, the US chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson, argued that crimes against humanity are committed by individuals, not abstract entities. Only by holding individuals accountable for their actions can widespread atrocities be deterred in future.
The International Criminal Court's Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has promised to apply the approach first developed in Nuremberg to prosecute individuals for international crimes that result in significant environmental damage. Her recommendations don't create new environmental crimes, such as "ecocide", which would punish severe environmental damage as a crime in itself. They do signal, however, a growing appreciation of the role that environmental damage plays in causing harm and suffering to people.
The International Criminal Court was asked in 2014 to open an investigation into allegations of land-grabbing by the Cambodian government. In Cambodia, large corporations and investment firms were being given prime agricultural land by the government, displacing up to 770,000 Cambodians from 4m hectares of land. Prosecuting these actions as crimes against humanity would be a positive first step towards holding individuals like Bolsonaro accountable.
But given the global consequences of the Amazon fires, could environmental destruction of this nature be legally considered a crime against all humanity? Defining it as such would be unprecedented. The same charge could apply to many politicians and business people. It's been argued that oil and gas executives who've funded disinformation about climate change for decades should be chief among them.
Charging individuals for environmental crimes against humanity could be an effective deterrent. But whether the law will develop in time to prosecute people like Bolsonaro is, as yet, uncertain. Until the International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for crimes against humanity based on their environmental damage, holding individuals criminally accountable for climate change remains unlikely.
This story originally appeared in The Conversation. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
By Natalie Hanman
Why are you publishing this book now?
I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.
The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?
When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.
What's stopping the left doing this?
In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.
Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?
I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.
That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.
This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.
One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?
When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?
I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.
This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.
In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?
In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.
Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...
Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.
Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?
I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?
Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?
It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.
What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?
One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.
You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?
I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.
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By Ben Jervey
Drivers of electric cars are being unfairly punished by punitive fees in several states, according to a newly published analysis by Consumer Reports. Legislators in 26 states have enacted or proposed special registration fees for electric vehicles (EVs) that the consumer advocacy group found to be more expensive than the gas taxes paid by the driver of an average new gasoline vehicle.
By Oliver Milman
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