2016 is “very likely” to be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015, according to an assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nation’s agency on weather, climate and water.
Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, WMO said in a statement on Monday.
Global temperatures for January to September 2016 have been about 0.88°C above the average (14°C) for the 1961-1990 reference period, which is used by WMO as a baseline. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event of 2015-16, the statement said, adding that preliminary data for October indicate that they are at a “sufficiently high level for 2016 to remain on track for the title of hottest year on record.” This would mean that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century (1998 was the other one).
“The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in the statement. “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue,” he said.
Taalas added that in parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. “We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different,” he said.
Long-term climate change indicators are also record-breaking, WMO reported. Temperatures were above normal over most ocean areas. Global sea levels rose about 15 millimetres between November 2014 and February 2016 as a result of El Niño, well above the post-1993 trend of 3 to 3.5 mm per year, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs, the statement said. However, since February, sea levels have remained fairly stable. Also, Arctic sea ice extent was “well below normal” throughout the year.
Regarding greenhouse gas concentrations, annual average global carbon dioxide concentrations in 2015 reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time. Initial observations indicate new records in 2016, the statement said. For example, at Cape Grim (Australia), CO2 levels in August averaged 401.42 ppm, compared with 398.13 ppm in August 2015. At Mauna Loa (Hawaii), mean weekly concentrations of CO2 as of Oct. 23 were 402.07 ppm, compared with 398.50 ppm at the same time in 2015, while the May 2016 value of 407.7 ppm was the highest monthly value on record.
The assessment also touched on numerous “high-impact” weather events in 2016:
Hurricane Matthew – In Haiti, there were 546 confirmed deaths and 438 injured as a result of the hurricane in October;
Typhoon Lionrock caused destructive flooding and heavy casualties in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Cyclone Winston was the most severe tropical on record to affect Fiji. In total, there have been 78 tropical cyclones globally in 2016 as of Oct. 31, close to the long-term average.
The Yangtze basin in China had its most significant summer floods since 1999, killing 310 people and causing an estimated US$14 billion in damage. Flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka in mid-May left more than 200 people dead or missing, and displaced several hundred thousand. Above-normal seasonal rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa led to significant flooding in the Niger River basin, with the river reaching its highest levels in about 50 years in Mali;
There were a number of major heatwaves during 2016. The year started with an extreme heatwave in southern Africa, exacerbated by the ongoing drought. Many stations set all-time records, including 42.7°C at Pretoria and 38.9°C at Johannesburg on Jan. 7. Thailand saw a national record of 44.6°C on April 28. Phalodi saw a new record for India of 51°C on May 19. Record or near-record temperatures occurred in parts of the Middle East and north Africa on a number of occasions in summer. Mitribah in Kuwait recorded 54°C on July 21 which, subject to ratification through standard WMO procedures, will be the highest temperature on record for Asia. The following day, 53.9°C was recorded at Basra in Iraq and 53°C at Delhoran in Iran;
Major droughts affected several parts of the world, most of them associated with the El Niño event, which had a big influence on precipitation. Southern Africa experienced a second consecutive bad rainy season in 2015-16, although most of the region normally receives little rain between May and October.
“Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen,” Taalas said in the statement. “‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular. Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones.”
Taalas added that there is a “great need to strengthen the disaster early warning and climate service capabilities of especially developing countries. This is a powerful way to adapt to climate change.”
According to WMO, of 79 studies published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society between 2011 and 2014, more than half found that human-induced climate change contributed to the extreme event in question.