Highlights from the State of The Climate 2018

Just three days ago, on August 12, 2019, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) released the newest State of the Climate providing a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected. The State of the Climate in 2018 is the 29th issuance of this international, peer-reviewed publication that is released each summer. The report is based on contributions from scientists around the world and is compiled by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Although we can’t possibly cover all the topics in one blog post, we wanted to share some highlights with you, and we invite you to take a look at the report as well! It is full of valuable information, and we believe that an informed community is a resilient community.

Let’s Talk about Temperatures

The report found that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record, with only the years 2015-2017 being warmer. Europe was one of the “hotspots” for the globe in 2018, with several European countries (including France, Italy, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) reporting record high temperatures. There were also more high (and fewer low) temperatures extremes than in nearly all of the 68-year extremes record.

A few temperature highlights:
  • Alaska reported its second warmest year in its 94-year record, and Mexico reported its third warmest year in its 48-year record.
  • Jamaica observed its highest annual average maximum temperature since records began in 1971, while the Bahamas reported its fifth highest annual average maximum temperature. Conversely, the annual average maximum temperature for Barbados was its third lowest.
  • Turkey observed its second warmest year, after 2010, with records dating to 1967. In India, the average temperature during the pre-monsoon season (March–May) was the highest on record. In neighboring Pakistan, the city of Nawabshah recorded its all-time highest temperature of 50.2°C, which may also be a new world temperature record for April!
  • South Korea experienced a record hot summer. The highest temperature ever recorded in South Korea was set on August 1, 2018: 41.0°C in Hongcheon. In mid-July, an all-time national record high temperature of 41.1°C was set at Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, Japan.
  • The annual temperature for New Zealand tied with 1998 as the second highest since records began in 1909, behind only 2016. January 2018 marked New Zealand’s single warmest month on record.
  • Warmth was widespread and persistent across Australia, with the country experiencing its third warmest year since records began in 1910.
  • Sea surface temperatures were near-record high, and the deeper ocean continues to warm year after year. These above average temperatures contributed to coral reef bleaching across much of the Caribbean during July-September.

Precipitation

Across land, many areas around the globe received copious amounts of precipitation. Rodrigues and Réunion Island near southern Africa each reported their third wettest year on record. In Hawaii, 1262 mm (49.69 inches!!) precipitation fell at Waipā Gardens (Kauai) on April 14-15, setting a new U.S. record for 24-h precipitation. The heavy rains in Hawaii triggered floods and mudslides. In Brazil, the city of Belo Horizonte received nearly 75 mm (2.95 inches!) of rain in just 20 minutes, nearly half its monthly average. The yearly precipitation across the contiguous United States was the third highest on record, falling behind 1973 and 1983.

On the other hand, much of northern and central Europe experienced a dry year with precipitation totals 60%-80% of normal. The Netherlands reported one of its driest summers since records began in 1906, with July its driest month ever observed. Ireland also reported its driest summer since its records began in 1962, with June and July each record dry. The extreme heat and severe drought across Europe had far reaching impacts on water supply, forests, and crops, leading to major economic losses in many countries.

Additionally, in northeastern Brazil, dry conditions observed since 2012 persisted through 2018, but with less intensity. In southeastern Brazil, São Paulo experienced its driest austral summer since 2003. The extreme dry conditions led to wildfires that affected crop fields and protected areas. Elsewhere in South America, a record seven extreme snowfall events occurred in the central and southern Peruvian Andes during the austral winter of 2018. These storms contributed to the wettest winter for the region in its 19-year record.

Profiling the Poles

The 2018 Arctic land surface temperature was 1.2°C above the 1981-2010 average, tying for the third highest in the 118-year record, following 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, the Arctic snow cover in June 2018 was almost half of what it was 35 years ago. Additionally, in the Arctic there are layers of permafrost…which is basically exactly what it sounds like! Permafrost refers to a layer of soil or bedrock below the surface of the earth in which the temperature has been below freezing continuously from a few to several thousands of years. Between 2017 and 2018, permafrost temperatures increased at most observation sites in the Arctic, with the overall increase of 0.1°C to 0.2°C being comparable to the highest rate of warming ever observed in the region. However, in Greenland, regional summer temperatures were generally near or even slightly below average. Furthermore, a satellite survey of the glaciers in Greenland indicated a net increase in area for the first time since records began in 1999!

2018 was warmer than average for the Antarctic as a whole, and on the highest points of the Antarctic Plateau, six monthly temperatures records were broken or tied throughout the year.

Sea Ice

On March 17, 2018, the Arctic sea ice extent marked the second smallest annual maximum in the 38-year record, larger only than 2017. The minimum sea ice extent was reached on September 19 and again on September 23, tying 2008 and 2010 as the sixth lowest extent on record. First-year ice (as the name implies, this is ice that has only been around for less than one year!) now makes up much of the ice cover, with first-year ice comprising 77% of the ice pack in March 2018, compared to 55% in the 1980s. This shift is critical because this younger ice is thinner and more vulnerable to melting out during the summer….further contributing to the decreasing trend in minimum ice extent.

What about the Antarctic, you ask? Cool conditions in the Bellinghausen and Amundsen Sea sectors contributed to a low melt season overall in those areas, while high sea surface temperatures in the Ross and Weddell Seas contributed to record low summer sea ice extent in those areas. Throughout 2018, 28 days of record low daily sea ice extent were observed, including 17 in December alone. The monthly mean sea ice area for December was the lowest for that month in the 41-year satellite record

With the exception of Greenland, glaciers melted across the world. Preliminary data indicate that the world’s most closely tracked glaciers lost mass for the 30th consecutive year. Since 1980, the cumulative loss is the equivalent of slicing 79 feet off the top of the average glacier.

Other Notable Events

  • Global sea level continues to rise, and for the seventh consecutive year, global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2018 and was about 3.2 inches (8.1 cm) higher than the 1993 average, the year that marks the beginning of the satellite altimeter record. Global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.1 cm) per decade.
  • Globally, the levels of fire activity during 2018 were the lowest since the start of the record in 1997, with a combined burned area of about 1.2 billion acres (500 million hectares). The low fire year is consistent with the long-term downward trend in fire emissions, which has been driven primarily by the conversion of frequently burning savannas to agricultural areas. Regionally, South America and the Northern Hemisphere of Africa each experienced their lowest annual fire activities, while North America and Australia had fire emissions that were higher than normal.
    • In November, the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history caused 85 deaths and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures.
  • Tropical cyclones were well above average overall. There were 95 named tropical cyclones across all ocean basins in 2018, well above the 1981–2010 average of 82. Eleven tropical cyclones reached the Saffir–Simpson scale Category 5 intensity level. This was only one less than the record of 12 Category 5 tropical cyclones in 1997.

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