The first five months of 2010 have been the warmest in recorded history. But have you seen that story covered by the corporate media? Nope – and you aren’t likely to any time soon either … at least until the records become so widespread and intense that there’s no longer much we can do about them.
Both the NASA and NOAA analyses of global temperatures have marked the warmest month of May, the warmest 3-month March to May period and the warmest 5-month January to May period in recorded human history. Both datasets go back 131 years into the past. The warmest month, 3-month and 5-month periods out of 131 other years has been reached. Perhaps if the highest scoring Super Bowl in history had just occurred, some corporate entity might be interested in covering it.
NASA’s global analysis reported a +0.66°C (+1.134°F) surface temperature anomaly for May 2010 (over the 1951-1980 base period). This tied the previous record anomaly from 1998 and beat the 0.59°C (1.062°F) anomaly from 2005, according to NASA’s GISS dataset.
NOAA’s global analysis reported a +0.69°C (+1.24°F) surface temperature anomaly for May 2010. According to the NOAA methodology, the next warmest May was observed in 1998: +0.63°C (+1.13°F).
With record and near-record monthly temperature averages observed so far in 2010, it is no surprise to see the January-May period this year also setting a temperature record. According to NASA, the Jan-May 2010 period has been the warmest at +0.72°C (+1.3°F). For comparison, NASA includes the same period from the two warmest years in their dataset so far: 2005 and 1998. Globally averaged surface temperatures in Jan-May 2005 were +0.62°C (+1.118°F) and during the same period in 1998 were +0.61°C (+1.098°F). So the Jan-May 2010 observed warmth was 0.10°C more than the same period in the warmest year to date on record.
According to NOAA, the Jan-May 2010 period has also been the warmest: +0.68°C (+1.224°F). The NOAA site also contains information from the same period during the warmest or the next warmest year on record. Their methodology differs slightly from NASA’s, but is just as valid and acts as an independent check on the other dataset. NOAA’s methodology identified 1998 as the next warmest for global land and ocean surface temperatures at +0.67°C (+1.21°F).
Global averages and multi-year trends are all very well and nice, but what do these records mean? Is there a way to contextualize them in more day-to-day terms so that more of the public can understand the threat they pose? I think so. I’m going to provide a couple of examples that mean something to me; hopefully they help clarify the problem for others as well.
Record high temperatures have been occurring in the Middle East and Africa. I know, big shock, you haven’t heard of those in the corporate media either. Well, they happened. I’m sure one of the stereotypical concepts of the Middle East and portions of Africa is the incredible heat the region experiences. So what kind of records are we talking about? Try 125.6°F (50°C) in Basra, Iraq on June 14; 125.6°F (50°C) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on June 22; 117.7°F (47.6°C) in Faya, Chad on June 22; 116.8°F (47.1°C) in Bilma, Niger. Bahrain had its hottest day ever in June on the 20th – 46.9°C; Qatar similarly hit its hottest June day ever with 48.8°C. Kuwait saw 123.8°F (51°C) on June 15th, missing their hottest all-time temperature by 1°F (0.9°C). Myinmu, Myanmar hit its all-time record high back on May 12th – 116.6°F (47°C).
Okay, those are some really high temperatures. Along the Front Range in Colorado, 100°F and higher have until now represented extremely hot days. The frequency of 100°F days was, in the 20th century, pretty low – a couple of days at most during any one year, as the figure below from a recent NOAA report shows.
We have a choice to emit fewer emissions through the end of this century or more emissions. How many 100°F days could Colorado see if we take the low emissions path? 7-21 per year (1-3 weeks) for the Front Range and 35-49 per year (5-7 weeks) for southeast Colorado, as the next figure shows. It is important to keep in mind that this emissions scenario depends on us changing our rate of pollution quickly and aggressively, something that does not look likely to happen.
Given our current, actual greenhouse gas emissions, which track along or slightly above the IPCC’s A1F1 scecario (the highest they considered), what kind of summers can we expect to see later this century? 8 weeks of 100°F days every year could become “normal”. Not once or twice a year – up to 2 months of 100°F days. Areas in southeast Colorado could be subjected to 12 weeks of 100°F days – the entire summer! – as the figure below shows.
In fact, nearly the entire country would, for the first time, experience 100°F days. The desert southwest? Given their current maximum yearly temperatures, I have to think they would find out what the Middle East goes through. Can you imagine what weeks of 100°F days would do to our agriculture, power sources and water supplies? If we can imagine that hellish future, do we want to avoid it? I hope that images like these and the implications of those realities coming to be will spur even more people to change their own personal lives as well as demand changes on the local, state, national and international scales. Those temperature records I started out with could seem relatively balmy compared to the high emissions future we’re headed toward.