Canadian Underwriter

2016 was the warmest year on record for the globe, Canadian Prairies experienced one of the “longest and most active storm seasons”: report

August 11, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter

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Last year topped 2015 as the warmest year in 137 years of record keeping and marked the third consecutive year of record warmth, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on Thursday.

The 27th annual State of the Climate report for 2016, led by researchers from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, found that “most indicators of climate change continued to follow trends of a warming world, and several, including land and ocean temperatures, sea level and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere broke records set just one year prior.” Last year’s record heat resulted from the combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year, NOAA said in a statement.

The research is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from nearly 60 countries. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events and other data collected from land, water and space. The research is published as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Findings for Canada indicate that 2016 was characterized by warmer-than-average temperatures stretching from the northwest to the central regions. The annual average temperature in 2016 was 2.1 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average, resulting in the fourth warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948. As well, the national annual average temperature has increased by 1.7°C over the past 69 years, the report said.

Seasonally, winter was 4°C above average – the second warmest winter on record, behind the winter of 2009/10, with the national winter average temperature having increased by 3.3°C over the past 69 years. Winter anomalies above +4°C were recorded from the northwest to the Atlantic coast, and most provinces/territories had winter average temperatures among their four warmest: Yukon and Atlantic provinces (warmest), Northwest Territories (second warmest), Ontario (third warmest) and Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (fourth warmest).

For precipitation, “Canada as a whole experienced slightly wetter-than-average annual precipitation conditions in 2016,” the report noted. Based on preliminary data, it was the 16th wettest year since nationwide records began, with nationally averaged precipitation 105% of the 1961-1990 average. The nationally averaged annual precipitation amounts have increased by 17.6 millimetres since 1948.

By province, wetter-than-average conditions were observed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but only small areas in northern British Columbia, southern Yukon, northwestern Quebec and Baffin Island recorded drier-than-average conditions, according to the report.

In addition to the Fort McMurray wildfire – the costliest disaster in Canadian history at almost $4 billion – the Prairies experienced “one of its longest and most active storm season since statistics were first kept in 1991,” the report pointed out. Clusters of intense thunderstorms were more frequent and there were numerous reports of large hail, heavy rain, high winds, frequent lightning and many localized events that included tornadoes, brief non-destructive landspouts and microbursts. Tornadoes were more frequent – 46 vortices compared to the 30-year average of 34. Altogether, there were 564 reported severe weather events including strong winds, heavy rain, tornadoes and hail. Nearly two-thirds of these severe events were hailstorms, the report said, which caused damage and resulted in payouts for crop hail insurance claims 50% higher than the previous year’s costs and well above the average of the past five years.

Among the report’s global findings:

  • Greenhouse gases were the highest on record – Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, rose to new record-high values in 2016. The 2016 average global CO2 concentration was 402.9 parts per million (ppm), an increase of 3.5 ppm compared with 2015 and the largest annual increase observed in the 58-year record;
  • Global surface temperature was the highest on record – Aided in part by the strong El Niño early in the year, the 2016 combined global land and ocean surface temperature was record-high for a third consecutive year, according to four global analyses. The increase in temperature ranged from 0.81–1.01. degrees F (0.45°–0.56°C) above the 1981-2010 average;
  • Average sea surface temperature was the highest on record – According to four independent datasets analyzed, the record-breaking globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2016 was 0.65–0.74 degrees F (0.36–0.41 degrees C) higher than the 1981–2010 average and surpassed the previous mark set in 2015 by 0.02–0.05 degrees F (0.01–0.03 degrees C);
  • Global upper-ocean heat content neared record high – Heat in the uppermost layer of the ocean, the top 2,300 feet (700 metres), saw a slight drop compared to the record high set in 2015. The findings are consistent with a continuing trend of warming oceans, the report said;
  • Global sea level was the highest on record – The global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2016, and was about 3.25 inches (82 mm) higher than that observed in 1993, when satellite record-keeping for sea level began;
  • Arctic sea ice coverage was at or near record low – The maximum Arctic sea ice extent (coverage) reached in March 2016 tied last year as the smallest in the 37-year satellite data record, while the minimum sea ice extent in September tied 2007 as the second lowest on record; and
  • Tropical cyclones were above-average overall – There were 93 named tropical cyclones across all ocean basins in 2016, above the 1981-2010 average of 82 storms. Three basins – the North Atlantic and Eastern and Western Pacific basins – experienced above-normal activity in 2016.

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