It's the award no one wanted to win: 2019 was the second hottest year on record, government scientists confirmed yesterday (Jan. 15).
That's according to two separate analyses: one conducted by NASA and one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Each study compared 2019 Earth temperature data with scientists' historical records, which begin in 1880. Of those 140 years, only 2016 was warmer than last year; the analyses also show that the five hottest years on record have been the five years beginning in 2015.
"The decade that just ended is clearly the warmest decade on record," Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said in a statement. "Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before."
According to NOAA's temperature report, 2019 was also the 43rd year in a row that saw above-average global land and ocean temperatures. That analysis, like the similar one conducted by NASA, is based on data gathered by more than 20,000 stations around the world.
Temperature increases aren't the only climate upheaval that the federal government's scientists have been tracking. A second NOAA analysis, released on Jan. 8, found that, in the U.S., 2019 was also the second wettest year on record, with only 1973 seeing more precipitation.
The same NOAA report also tallied weather- and climate-related disasters that cost the country $1 billion or more. The U.S. experienced 14 such events in 2019, including wildfires in California, flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, tornadoes in the south, and tropical storm Imelda in Texas and Hurricane Dorian on the Atlantic coast. Those events add to a decade that saw more such expensive disasters — adjusted for inflation — than the previous decade.
The connections between severe-weather events and broader climate changes are complex, but the findings speak to the increasing extremity of weather on Earth. Temperature changes, including average global surface temperature increases, are just one facet of these changes, and the most easily tied to a cause.
"We crossed over into more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit [over 1.1 degrees Celsius] warming territory in 2015 and we are unlikely to go back," Schmidt said in the statement. "This shows that what's happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some weather phenomenon: we know that the long-term trends are being driven by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."