Despite polar vortex, 2014 is warmest year on record

Though most of the United States still shivers with memories of the polar vortex, 2014 was actually the warmest year on record according to separate analyses by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. They found the Earth was 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

This was not surprising given the trends over the 21st-century. Since recording the Earth’s temperature began in 1880, the 10 warmest years on record have occurred after 2000 with the exception of 1998.

What makes this finding more interesting are the extremes we saw in 2014. Many countries recorded their highest temperatures ever including Finland, Australia, and eastern Siberia. Other countries recorded their lowest temperatures ever including certain parts of the United States during the early January ‘polar vortex’. In fact, the average temperature for the eastern United States was significantly lower than the average temperature for the Earth during 2014. Several western states though, including California, saw their warmest year on record.

South America also saw record high temperatures despite the absence the El Niño, warm ocean waters that move back east to the Equator typically result in higher temperatures both on land and at sea.

Oceans saw the most substantial increase with the sea-surface temperatures rising higher than 1998, a year which was influenced by a strong El Niño.

2014 is unlikely to remain the warmest year on record for long.

“People are always asking why do we think this is going on, “ Gavin Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told reporters. “In these long term trends is a complicated fingerprinting exercise where we look at multiple variables including greenhouse gases. Given the trends we’re seeing, we may experience warmest years yet to come.”

To understand the Earth’s warming further NASA is launching three different space missions that will collect information. The first one, the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), is on the International Space Station and measures the distribution of pollution, dust, and smoke in the atmosphere.

Gavin Schmidt will be on the PBS NewsHour tonight to discuss these findings further.