Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

February 2010: 6th Warmest on Record

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NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) has released their February 2010 Global Analysis Report.  Preliminary analysis indicates that globally averaged surface temperatures in February 2010 were the 6th warmest on record (dating back to 1880): 1.08°F (0.60°C) above the 20th century average of  53.9°F (12.1°C).  Perhaps more significantly, lower tropospheric temperatures were the 2nd warmest on record (dating back to 1979), trailing only February 1998, when a very strong El Nino was impacting the planet.

As I wrote one month ago, this 6th warmest February follows the 4th warmest January and the 8th warmest December.  This makes the Dec-Jan-Feb average surface temperature the fifth warmest on record for the season,  1.03°F(0.57°C) above the 20th century average of  53.8°F(12.1°C).

Conditions around the globe were pretty similar to those reported in January: below average temperatures over the U.S., Europe and Russia.  Much warmer temperatures than normal over Alaska, Canada, northern Africa and the Middle East.  The heat anomalies resulting from the current moderate El Nino can be seen in the Pacific Ocean as well.

Why did most of the U.S. experience below average temperatures while Alaska and Canada were so warm?  The Arctic Oscillation continued to make its presence felt.  This winter, the AO allowed cooler air from the Arctic to flow south over southern land masses while allowing warmer air from the mid-latitudes to flow north.  But remember, everything is relative.  Those warmer temperatures over the Arctic still weren’t high enough to melt sea ice, for example.  The cooler temperatures flowing out from the Arctic actually allowed for new ice to form along the edge of ice that already existed, bucking trends seen in recent years.  The Arctic witnessed a late-season surge of ice growth that I’ll cover in more detail in a few more weeks.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of a cooler than normal winter across the U.S. is the public’s perception of climate change and its effects.  Too often, folks confuse weather and climate.  I think that’s fairly natural: weather is what we experience every day; climate is about long-term trends and our memories are often different than what recorded observations indicate. Blizzards up and down the populous east coast don’t exactly spur thoughts of a warmer globe.

Legislation that would begin addressing climate change on a national scale continues to be bottled up in the dysfunctional U.S. Senate.  Closer to home, efforts like increasing Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard to 30% by 2020 are pushing local efforts further.  We need to focus on what the climate trends are and act accordingly.  We can (must!) upgrade and update the way we live with a great deal of real cost savings in the next 10 years.  There are more “6th warmests” ahead of us, even if we do make the needed changes.  How many there are is largely up to us.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


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