26 May 2016
2010 might be warmest year on record
Published online 3 December 2010
The year 2010 is almost certain to rank among the warmest three years since records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The final ranking of 2010 will be calculated after November and December data is collected. This year might even reach number one.
"2010 is probably the warmest year up to October or November. Right now, it is slightly ahead of values of the same period from 1998 and 2005," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of WMO, a United Nations agency. The years 1998 and 2005 have the highest recorded temperatures, climbing 0.53°C and 0.52°C above average temperatures, respectively.
2010 is currently estimated at 0.55°C above the average annual records since the early 1960s.
Northern Africa, the Arab Peninsula, southern Asia and China experienced extreme weather anomalies during 2010, with some regions topping 1°C to 3°C above normal temperatures. Many countries in these regions experienced their warmest recorded year. In the summer, the temperature in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, reached a record-high 52.0°C and Doha, Qatar, reached 50.4°C. Even the normally cooler northwestern African regions experienced extreme summers with Taroudant, Morocco, recording 47.7°C.
"What was very significant is the deviation in large parts of Africa. The deviation of 1°C to 3°C above normal is a very significant deviation," added Jarraud.
In the winter of 2010, North Africa also recorded warmer temperatures. Days in February averaged 3.7°C above the long-term trend for the region, the largest anomaly on record for any month.
According to Jarraud, the bigger picture shows a continuous increase in world temperatures. "When we look at the climate, we don't look at one year — but look at a timescale. The decade from 2001 to 2010 has set a new record. It will be the warmest decade ever."
If things continue as they are, the 2003 heat wave in Europe will not be an exceptional event. It will probably even be on the cooler side.
2010 is also characterized by several large-scale extreme events. A heat wave that struck Russia in July pushed temperatures 7.6°C above average, and 2°C above the warmest months ever recorded in Moscow. This led to widespread forest fires and destroyed crop fields, causing a worldwide spike in the price of wheat when Russia banned wheat exports to keep it for local use.
"I'm sure you all remember the heat wave over Russia which was truly exceptional. This was linked to the precipitation and floods in Pakistan," says Jarraud.
The Pakistan floods displaced 20 million people and over 1,500 people died, while most of the country's agriculture was destroyed.
Although it is difficult to link extreme weather events to climate change, Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme, says the pattern is clear. "We are clearly seeing that the magnitude of some of these events and their frequency show an upward trend," as the temperature rises.
According to Eduardo Calvo Beundia, vice-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IPCC is planning a report for next year that will examine possible links between extreme events and climate change.
More accurate measures
To record annual temperatures, climate data is collected from a network of land-based weather stations, ships and satellites. The streams of data flow to three research centres for analysis: the UK Met Office, NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The WMO is hoping to include other centres in the future, which would reduce the error range of calculations. "This will not change the message, the message will remain that the temperature is increasing," added Jarraud.
In summer 2003, a severe heat wave across Europe killed thousands of people. "If things continue as they are, the 2003 heat wave in Europe will not be an exceptional event, it will be the norm. It will probably even be on the cooler side," warns Jarraud.