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2014 Boils Toward Warmest Year Ever with Three More Records Broken

Even if it's freezing in your personal universe, Earth as a whole just broke three "warmest" records and 2014 is likely to be the toastiest on record.
Image: A NOAA graphic shows the land and ocean temperature percentiles for October 2014
A NOAA graphic shows the land and ocean temperature percentiles for October 2014.NOAA

Even if it's freezing in your personal universe, Earth as a whole just broke three "warmest" records and is likely to see 2014 go down as the warmest since record keeping began in 1880, scientists reported Thursday.

Driven by record warm oceans, combined sea and land temperatures in October were the warmest on record, according to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On top of that, January-October was the warmest first 10 calendar months, while November 2013 to October 2014 was the warmest 12-month block.

Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed where the records fell, in large part due to record warm oceans:

  • Warmest October: The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was the highest on record for an October at 58.4 degrees F, or 1.3 degrees above the 20th century average and topping the previous record (2003) by 0.02 degrees.
  • Warmest first 10 calendar months: The surface temperature for January-October was 58.6 degrees, 1.22 degrees above average and topping the previous record set (1998 and 2010) by 0.04 degrees. Ocean temperatures by themselves were 1.03 degrees above average, the highest on record for this period, beating the previous record (1998) by 0.05 degrees.
  • Warmest 12-month block: The period of November 2013-October 2014 averaged 58.2 degrees, 1.2 degrees above the norm, breaking a record set just a month ago for warmest 12-month period.

October was "the sixth consecutive month where the ocean has been record warm," Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, told reporters. And the average ocean temperatures for each of those months "have all been the warmest for that month on record."

"The oceans have been generally warming over time," he said, especially this year, which he called "quite warm compared to even the warmest part of that history."

"Clearly the oceans are driving the warmth that we’ve seen around the planet," Arndt added.

And since the U.S. is only 2 percent of the planet, the current freeze and earlier relatively cool temperatures in the eastern half of the country don't amount to much in terms of global temperatures.

"Every major ocean basin and all continents all had pieces, and some had significant pieces, of their area that were the warmest on record" between January-October, he added, referring to a NOAA map showing hot spots (below).

Image: Map showing land and ocean temperature percentiles for October 2014

So what's going on? Natural climate cycles certainly play a role, Arndt told, but they tend to impact certain regions, not the entire planet. That leaves manmade global warming as a prime suspect.

"This is truly global scale warmth that we see and it's consistent with what we’d expect with increasing greenhouse gases," Arndt said.

"It is becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record," he added. "The remaining question is by how much."

What's surprising is that the warmth is building even without the presence of El Nino, the natural ocean cycle that impacts weather globally. The three warmest years on record — 1998, 2005 and 2010 — were tied to significant El Ninos, Arndt noted.

Image: Climate anomalies and events in 2014

"Over time the planet continues to warm" even without El Ninos, showing that they "do not dominate the long term signal."

NOAA had earlier forecast a mild El Nino forming by the end of this year, but the latest data now suggest "weaker" conditions if it does form, David Unger, seasonal forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said at NOAA's monthly climate update.

An El Nino, even a weak one, could help ease the drought in California with winter rain. A single season with rain won't end the drought, Unger added, but it "will result in some improvement."

California's drought ties in with its own high temperatures. "It is virtually certain that California will have its warmest year on record even if it has record cold in November and December," said Jake Crouch, a Climatic Data Center scientist.

Image: Land and ocean temperature departures for October 2014