2006: sixth warmest year on record

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:36 PM GMT on December 15, 2006

The planet's high fever abated only slightly in 2006 compared to 2005, according to preliminary figures issued by the National Climatic Data Center on Thursday. Following the warmest year on record for the globe in 2005, the annual global temperature for 2006 is expected to be sixth warmest since record keeping began in 1880. The annual averaged global temperature was 0.52�C (+0.94�F) above normal, just 0.09�C below the record set in 2005. Very little of the globe was cooler than normal in 2006--only Siberia had temperatures more than 1� C cooler than average (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Temperature departures from normal for 2006, based on preliminary data from the National Climatic Data Center.

U.S. Temperatures
The 2006 annual average temperature for the contiguous United States (based on preliminary data) will likely be 2�F (1.1�C) above the 20th Century mean, which would make 2006 the third warmest year on record. Only 1998 and 1934 were warmer than 2006. Three months in 2006 (January, April and July) were either the warmest or second warmest on record. Only September and October were cooler than average. A quick look at the jet stream pattern for the remainder of 2006, as forecast by the GFS model, reveals a continuation of the abnormal warmth we've seen over most of the U.S. this month. There will be very few regions of the country experiencing a white Christmas this year.

European temperatures
The Meteorlogical Office of England announced yesterday that 2006 was the warmest year in England since record keeping began in 1659. The years 1990 and 1999 shared the record, previously. The weather this Fall has been the warmest ever recorded over most of western Europe. One UK newspaper trumpeted the headline yesterday, "The hottest year since 1659 spells global doom". I don't agree that the hottest year ever in one small country is evidence that global doom is approaching. However, the statistics of what has happened globally the past 30 years speak volumes. Including 2006, six of the seven warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the ten warmest years have occurred since 1995. The global average surface temperature has risen between 0.6�C and 0.7�C (1.1 - 1.3� F) since the start of the 20th Century, and the rate of increase since 1976 has been approximately three times faster than the mean for the past 100 years. If the rate of warming since 1976 (Figure 2)--0.55�C in 30 years--is sustained the remainder of this century, the Earth will be a full 2�C warmer in 2100 than it was in 1990. This amount of warming would be tremendously costly to society and highly damaging to many ecosystems.

Figure 2. Temperature departures from normal for 1880-2006. Source: National Climatic Data Center.

The globe is undeniably warming at rapid rate, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if 2007 surpasses the global temperature record set in 2005, since we are entering 2007 with a moderate El Ni�o event on our hands. El Ni�o conditions add a tremendous amount of heat to the Earth's surface, and the current El Ni�o--which is expected to last at least until May--should drive up global temperatures significantly. Global doom is not at hand, but the predictions by our best climate scientists of a 1.4 to 5.8�C increase in global temperatures between 1990 and 2100 are quite believable and need to be taken seriously.

Next week, I plan to talk about the not-so-cheerful study published in Geophysical Research Letters this week titled, Future abrupt reductions in the summer Arctic sea ice. A sudden and complete disintegration of the North Polar ice cap could happen by 2040, according to some computer model calculations.

Jeff Masters

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147. V26R
6:02 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Why waste the money on a tandem bike if you intend to just put your feet up? Seems like
a waste to me, why not just a side car?
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137. V26R
5:16 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Depends, That might cause trouble, we already have over a thousand TV channels with nothing on!
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135. V26R
5:11 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
I'm sure there are many on this list who would agree with you
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132. V26R
5:08 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Buster, You're asking for alot now
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129. V26R
5:06 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Like Make Love Not CO2?
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127. V26R
5:04 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Yeah, but for how many days are you talking about?
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126. Caffinehog
4:57 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Wait!!!!!!!! I have an idea!

We all breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, right?

Well, what if we got everyone in the world to hold their breath for 30 seconds every day?
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123. Caffinehog
4:44 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
One could consider this possibility:
A natural change in ocean currents increases the warmth near the north pole. Ice melts, and decreases the amount of reflective, white snow. This allows more heat to be absorbed, accellerating the process until all the ice is gone. Poof! Instant global warming without CO2!

One could consider this:
CO2 causes warming, which decreases rainfall, which decreases vegitation. Bare ground is more reflective, and therefore cooling occurs. Poof! We're back to normal.

One could consider this:
The earth could be in an unusually seismically active period, resulting in an abnormal number of volcanic eruptions. These release LOTS of CO2, and so we enter a warming phase. Would we have any clue if it were unusually seismically active right now? Maybe the opposite is true, and only that has prevented global catastrophe.

Or this:
Might our CO2 emissions be the only thing preventing another ice age right now?

There are thousands of possibilities.
All that we really know is that the earth is in a warming trend right now.

Of course, we should take action to decrease CO2 emissions. But is it too late? Is it too little? Will it have any effects at all? And would a warmer earth be all that bad for humanity? Who knows?
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120. Caffinehog
4:33 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
MichaelSTL, that's exactly what it does.

But we're still missing some important answers:
1. How much does it absorb?
2. How much of each ton of CO2 that we put out stays in the atmosphere?
3. What other effects does increased CO2 cause?
4. Is the NET effect of increased CO2 global warming?
5. How much of the CO2 increase is due to human activities?
6. Is increased CO2 the ONLY reason for the warming?
7. Is there anything we can do to counteract this?

We don't know these answers, and they're pretty important.
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116. BigBake
3:58 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
There is no proof that CO2 has led to increased global warmth. You have paralelled two outcomes and drawn a conclusion that they must be tied with a minimal population of numbers. Further, plants are not even a 1/3 of what removes CO2 from the atmosphere, not even a 1/3. You have missed the largest CO2 sink, the oceans themselves, you know the one thing you alarmists keep clamering about how they are getting larger by the day. Which by the way is another normal cycle, along with the slowing of the currents. Proof positive is in coral growth and population distribution throughout the world. Coral growth and distribution slows with the currents as sea levels rise. Quite a normal pattern.
The real deabate is the rate at which the earth warms. Guess what? We have no clue at what rate it has warmed/cooled in the past before human records existed, but we do know rapid changes in climate have occured causing extinctions.
115. Snowfire
3:06 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Atmospheric oxygen concentration has not been constant for the last billion years, though it is reasonably stable at 21% right now. It has varied from 35% 252 million years ago to nearly zero a few million years later, after the P-T extinction event.
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114. bappit
2:56 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Ahhhh ...

Not to change the subject, but check out the tracks from the Southern Indian Ocean's cyclone season. Pretty interesting stuff.
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112. MargieKieper
8:48 PM CST on December 15, 2006
mgreen91 -- looks like they need someone from LA on Team 6. They remembered to put in "corruption," but they put it last!
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110. snowboy
2:29 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Atmospheric oxygen has been steady in concentration for at least the last billion years, maintained at an equilibrium by the combined effect of the world's biota.

What has not been steady is CO2 - when it goes up, temps go up. When it goes down, temps go down. Not that hard to follow, and the underlying greenhouse effect concept is not that hard to grasp.

Much can be done very quickly to take carbon out of the air - for example, you can plant a LOT of trees! Canadian firms are starting to experiment with carbon "sequestration" (burial), with the aim of taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as the extraction of the Alberta tar sands puts in.

I am noting the comments about how India and China will be putting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere in the future, and that being used as an excuse for the US doing nothing. That is so lame. The US is directly responsible for much of the atmospheric CO2 that is up there NOW, and if any nation on this planet should be taking the lead in reducing CO2 emissions it is the US.
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106. mgreen91
2:35 AM GMT on December 16, 2006
Very interesting finding this while looking for something else today on the web:


Massachusetts Institute of Technology has teams studying the insurance coverage issues and the levee breaks.
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9:32 PM EST on December 15, 2006
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9:25 PM EST on December 15, 2006
That's interesting buster. I see you managed to work tunnels
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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