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2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño, thanks to global warming

Posted on 2 January 2018 by dana1981

2017 was the second-hottest year on record according to Nasa data, and was the hottest year without the short-term warming influence of an El Niño event:

1964–2017 global surface temperature data from Nasa, divided into El Niño (red), La Niña (blue), and neutral (black) years, with linear trends added.

In fact, 2017 was the hottest year without an El Niño by a wide margin – a whopping 0.17°C hotter than 2014, which previously held that record. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

For comparison, the neutral El Niño conditions and the level of solar activity in 1972 were quite similar to those in 2017. 45 years later, the latter was 0.9°C hotter than the former. For each type of year – La Niña, El Niño, and neutral – the global surface warming trend between 1964 and 2017 is 0.17–0.18°C per decade, which is consistent with climate model predictions.

ENSO temps

1964–2017 global surface temperature data from Nasa, divided into El Niño (red), La Niña (blue), and neutral (black) years, with linear trends added. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

It’s déjà vu all over again

I’ve been writing for the Guardian for almost 5 years now, and every year I’ve had to write a similar headline or two:

Those early years were the height of the denier frenzy about the mythical global warming ‘hiatus.’ At the time, John Abraham and I frequently wrote pieces pointing out that while various factors were temporarily dampening global surface warming, the oceans (which absorb over 90% of the excess heat from the increased greenhouse effect) continued warming rapidly

Climate scientists predicted this rapid temperature rise

It was only a matter of time until short-term effects stopped holding back the rise of Earth’s surface temperatures. That’s now happened, and as a result we’re seeing unleashed global warming causing record temperatures year after year. In fact, in February 2014 I wrote about a study that predicted this would happen:

the [ocean] heat uptake is by no means permanent: when the trade wind strength returns to normal - as it inevitably will - our research suggests heat will quickly accumulate in the atmosphere. So global temperatures look set to rise rapidly out of the hiatus, returning to the levels projected within as little as a decade.

Temperatures have in fact risen so quickly, it appears to have taken just a few years for that prediction to come true and for the denier focus on the short-term surface warming slowdown to look quite foolish.

2017 – a year of climate denial

Speaking of climate denial, on the 362nd day of the hottest year on record without an El Niño, the US president tweeted this:

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. I suggest expanding/changing the term "Climate Denial/Denier". That abbreviation is open to easy criticism. The intent is better described by "Denial/Denier of the developed and constantly improving awareness and understanding of climate science". If that fuller explanation seems too cumbersome, it can be stated once in an article followed by a harder to criticise abbreviation that is used in the balance of the item like: "...- Denial/Denier of Climate Science", or "...- Climate Science Denial/Denier".

    Dr. Roy Spencer recently attempted to attack efforts to 'gain support for the awareness and understanding of climate science and the changes of human activity that it has exposed are required for humanity to develop a sustainable better future for all' by criticising some terms that have been used in that effort.

    Dr. Roy's December 31, 2017 blog post "First Annual List of Banished Climate Change Terms" includes the term Climate Denier with the following criticism: "Climate Denier - How does one deny climate? Climate has always changed and always will. Maybe the intent is, “denier of catastrophic human-caused climate change”; if that’s the case, then I’m guilty as charged."

    However, Dr. Roy exposes that he is either:

    • a deliberate deciever/denier, well aware of the unacceptability of what he is doing
    • or someone who is not well aware or is lacking a good understanding of things

    because, in addition to abusing the term 'catastrophic human caused climate change' (used rather than being on his list of terms to banish), he uses the nothingburger term "nothingburger" as part of his feable rant against 'efforts to increase awaress and better understanding climate science and the changes of human activity that it has exposed are required for humanity to develop a sustainable better future for all'.

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  2. Dr. Roy Spencer's Blog Post "UAH Global Temperature Update for December, 2017:" further exposes that he is either:

    • a deliberate deciever/denier, well aware of the unacceptability of what he is doing
    • or someone who is not well aware or is lacking a good understanding of things

    He states that: "2017 ended up being the 3rd warmest year in the satellite record for the globally-averaged lower troposphere, at +0.38 deg. C above the 1981-2010 average, behind 1st place 2016 with +0.51 deg. C, and 2nd place 1998 at +0.48 deg. C."

    All of that is technically accurate. But he fails to make any mention of the influence of the ENSO cycle on the satellite data results; He fails to attempt to make people more aware and better understand what is going on.

    If "Technocognition" proposed in the Guardian article "Fake news is a threat to humanity, but scientists may have a solution" (re-posted on SkS) does get traction, would it flag Dr. Roy Spencer?

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  3. Excellent article. We have a huge problem with false or misleading attacks on climate science. I thought this may have faded away by now, but if anything it is more entrenched, despite the logical and scientific absurdity of the positions. The science has lead to implications that disturb peoples world views and political positions, and vested interests, and people can become very stubborn when their world view  is threatened.

    Climate science is also complex, with many costs to society but a few possible small benefits, and this opens an unfortunate door to inane and misleading claims like "CO2 is plantfood" and the tiresome need to rebut these in an exercise like whack a mole.

    However I agree with OPOF to some extent that the term "climate change denier" or just "denier"  is indeed not really accurate, as most do accept the climate is changing. It also reminds me of accusing someone of being a witch, and will not persuade people to re-examine their beliefs, and will instead create hostility towards the warmist group. It always make me think of the novel 1984 for some reason..

    I like OPOF's term "climate science denier". It's more accurate and concise and not quite as likely to create total hostility. It will mak epeople think a bit.

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  4. I agree with OPOF that Roy Spencer doesn't give any real commentary on his climate website on el nino. Theres also not much the general issues of what temperature trends all mean. He has several sceptical views on climate science, although I don't know if he fits the denier category, but he sure seems to get close. His wikipedia profile is interesting.

    RSS who also do temperature series for the troposphere, and give a much better discussion as below. However its important to realise the troposphere is not the surface, and the RSS people say its more important to look at nasa temerature trends which are at the surface. Roy Spencer makes no comment on such issues.

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  5. A fragment in The Guardian (not reproduced hare):

    America was hit by 15 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2017

    That is wrong number. I remember Katrina herself cost over $100G, so I went and checked List of costliest Atlantic hurricanes where Harvey is listed first with almost $200G, most of it in US. So 30 times more than the amount listed, not to mention other 2 major hurricanes and events.

    So the listed amount "15 billion-dollar" is some kind of mistake or confusion (does not appear a simple typo) that needs clarification.

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  6. My typo @5 above. You can easily calculate that I meant Harvey to be "13 times more" (and not "30 times more") than So 30 times more.

    Incidentally, the Wiki article I quoted, based on data by NOAA, also lists the total cost of 2017 seson:

    The costliest season on record was 2017, with damage estimated in excess of $400 billion.

    and that's the number Dana should have used in this OP.

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  7. Chriskoz @5, well spotted.  The following article shows how the 15 billion dollar figure was arrived at:

    Please note a couple of things: they are talking about 15 billion dollars or 'exceeding' 15 billion dollars. It's also a list that includes a wide range of problems like forest fires, droughts and hurricanes, and two of the hurricanes were relatively small such as Irma, so probably only a billion dollars.

    But I'm mystified why they apportion such a low cost to Hurricane Harvey, because according to your reference it is almost $200 billion,and is well known to be very devastating. So I dont know, but it's either an omission, or the media are deliberately understating the problem. This is all just all my quick impression, because I dont have much time to spend on the issue, but I was curious.

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  8. nigelj@7,

    If you import the table from your NOAA link to the spreadsheet with 2017 selected, you find out the total CPI-adjusted cost column be over $21 billion. So no, the mistaken "15 billion" figure does not come from there.

    And the three 2017 hurricanes of most interest are listed there as TBD. While olders hurricanes, eg. Katrina at $161.3G, are listed even costlier than in my Wiki (which might be not CPI-adjusted).

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  9. Chriskoz @8 yes I see your point, but the article I quoted did mention 15 disasters at more than one billion. It just looks to me like the guardian either copied this article at face value, not checking on a spreadsheet, or arrived at similar dubious looking thinking.

    But its completely hard for me  to understand why they say costs of Harvey is "to be determined" given wikipedia has articles detailing the costs. Maybe they are saying full costs aren't  known yet or something.

    The bottom line is $15 billion appears like a huge understatement.

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  10. nigel & chris - I think you're confusing the statistic (15 disasters costing over $1 billion each) with the total cost (not yet calculated).

    Sangfroid @ 10: I don't really appreciate the accusation of misleading the public, just because you don't understand the margins of uncertainty involved.  The NASA GISTEMP 95% uncertainty is about +/- 0.025°C.  You can see it for yourself in the blue bars here:

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] A note to readership:  Sangfroid's comment was removed to accusations of malfeasance, a violation of the comments policy.

  11. UK met office global temperature prediction for 2018 with graph :

    "The Met Office global temperature forecast suggests that 2018 will be another very warm year globally but is unlikely to be a new record due to a moderate La Niña in the Pacific."

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  12. Chris Mooney's WP article dedicated to the subject of climate disasters, lists the correct $ value of damages:

    Extreme hurricanes and wildfires made 2017 the most costly U.S. disaster year on record

    because it waited for NOAA data to become available. So NOAA finalised the cost of the three hurricanes at $265 billion total, and all events amounted to $306 billion total which is almost $100 billion lower than previous estimates but still the highest on record with CPI-adjustment.

    Interestingly, that article also quotes Munish Re estimates all global events (including uninsured) at $330 billion total. It looks that Munish Re number is an underestimate compard to NOAA (because it leaves $24 billion only for the damages outside US. Still, if the two numbers can be considered credible and not too far off, we can suspect that US was by far the most vulnerable country (in terms the most valuable assets lost)  in 2017. Lesson for wise people to retreat their assets and mitigate.

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  13. Dana, thanks for the article.

    The confusion you mention in @10 seems quite natural, given that the text says "15 billion", and a reader will naturally parse this as a single number before even reading the next word.  I also read "15 billion-dollar" as "$15 billion".

    Perhaps in future you can use the more verbose form with something (such as a "disasters", or at least a comma) between "15" and "billion".

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