2022 was once again one of the warmest in modern recorded history, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced Thursday in their annual report on global temperature data.
According to NOAA’s measurements, 2022 ranked as the planet’s sixth-warmest year on record. By NASA’s data it was the fifth-hottest year, sharing that “alarming distinction” with 2015, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
“That’s pretty alarming,” Nelson said. “And that’s a trend that is growing in magnitude.”
Last year’s data confirm that nine of the last 10 years have been the warmest since 1880. This was despite the ongoing La Niña event, which typically has a cooling effect on the globe.
The agencies’ reports are just the latest confirmation of a global climate trend that manages to be at once astonishing and dismally predictable.
The European Union’s climate change service also confirmed this week that last summer was Europe’s hottest ever, breaking the record set in 2021. With the exception of Iceland, the continent as a whole experienced its second-hottest year in 2022, with many western European nations recording their warmest ever years.
Russell Vose, chief of climate monitoring for the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, gave 2022 a “99% chance” of ranking in the top 10 warmest years on record when releasing last year’s report from his agency.
He was right. Not only did 2022 easily make the top 10, it was the 46th consecutive year of global temperatures that exceeded the 20th century average. The planet hasn’t had a colder-than-average year since Gerald Ford was president.
The European climate service described 2022 as the planet’s fifth-warmest year since its records began, behind 2016, 2020, 2019 and 2017. The average temperature last year was nearly 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1.2 degrees C) higher than the preindustrial period of 1850 to 1900, before humanity began emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases at a furious rate. It was even 0.54 degrees (0.3 degrees C) higher than average for the already-warm decades between 1991 and 2020.
China experienced the most severe heat wave in its modern recorded history last summer, with more than 900 million people subjected to temperatures above 104 degrees (40 degrees C) for more than 70 days.
India and Pakistan weathered debilitating heat in March and April, followed by record-breaking rainfall in July and August. The subsequent floods displaced 33 million people in Pakistan and killed 1,700.
And here in California, a September heat wave shattered temperature records across the state and nearly broke the power grid.
As sweaty as it was on the most populated continents, the world’s biggest temperature spikes were at the poles.
Extreme heat swept Antarctica in March, sending temperatures above the continent’s eastern ice sheet soaring 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. At Vostok Station, where the coldest temperature on Earth was recorded in 1983, the temperature hit 0.4 degrees (minus 17.7 degrees C) on March 18 — chilly, yes, but still a full 27 degrees (15 degrees C) higher than the next-warmest March day to date.
A similar story played out on the planet’s other side, with ice around the North Pole nearing or reaching its melting point at a time once considered unthinkably early.
“They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the North and the South [poles] both melting at the same time,” ice scientist Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center said at the time. “It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.”
Last year was also the third costliest year for climate disasters in U.S. history, with damage from floods, storms, heat and other extreme events costing more than $165 billion, said Sarah Kapnick, NOAA’s chief scientist.
The warming is a direct result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the NOAA and NASA researchers said.
Preliminary data released Tuesday show that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were 1.3% higher in 2022 than in 2021. The country looks increasingly unlikely to meet the goal set in the Paris climate accord to reduce its emissions 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.