While our part of the world hasn’t been breaking any heat records of late, plenty of places on the planet have been. Looking at the overall picture, global temperatures for May were either the warmest or second warmest on record, depending on which agency you look at. According to both NOAA and NASA, May 2020 was the warmest May on record, beating out May of 2016. The University of Alabama in Huntsville, which uses satellite-based instruments to measure the temperature of the atmosphere from the surface up to an altitude of about eight kilometres above sea level, reported May was the second-warmest May on record, falling behind May 1998. Not surprisingly, nine weather stations around the world set all-time May heat records this year, with no stations breaking all-time cold records.
Interestingly, both May of 1998 and 2016 were El Niño years, which helped to increase global temperatures. So, this year’s record-warm May is especially impressive, given that there is no El Niño event occurring. Add to that the fact that the current sunspot cycle is very weak and near its minimum, and it’s pretty difficult to argue that this record warmth is anything but human induced.
According to NOAA’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook, there is almost a 75 per cent chance that 2020 will be the warmest year on record globally, with a 99.94 per cent chance of it being a top five-warmest year, and a 99.99 per cent chance of a top 10-warmest year. If 2020 comes in as one of the top five warmest years, then the seven warmest years on record globally would have occurred in the last seven years. It is only a matter of time before our region experiences some of this record heat; let us hope it holds off until fall.
On thinner ice
One of the warmest places on the planet during June, compared to average, has been over far northern Russia. The daytime high temperature in Verkhoyansk, in northeastern Russia about 420 km south of the Arctic coast and about 10 km north of the Arctic Circle, hit an astonishing 38 C on June 20. Should this reading be correct — and there is no reason not to believe it, as they have reliable records going back to 1885 — this is likely the warmest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.
How is all this heat affecting global ice coverage? Well, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Arctic sea ice coverage was 930,000 square km below the 1981 to 2010 May average and 440,000 square km above the record-low mark for May, set in 2016. This has May coming in as the fourth-lowest sea ice coverage. Sea ice decline in June has been steady, with coverage now coming close to where it was at this time in 2012, which has the record for the lowest ice coverage. In the Antarctic, sea ice coverage is working toward its maximum and is currently tracking just a little below average.
The final bit of weather news for this issue is the massive dust storm that developed over parts of the Sahara Desert around June 20. The dust from this storm was then picked up by the prevailing easterly winds across the tropics and transported westward, bringing a significant reduction in air quality across a large part of the Caribbean and into parts of the southeastern U.S.
Next issue, we will take a look back at June 2020, which is looking like it will be coming in a little warmer and a little drier or wetter, depending on where you are. To wind up this issue’s article, I want to leave you with a quote from Jeff Masters, PhD, from his article “COVID-19 is the quiz, climate change the final exam,” which you can read at the Yale Climate Connections web page.
“Many students’ recurring nightmares involve a final exam tomorrow for a course they seldom attended all term: They can’t remember where the classroom is, and barely studied for the exam. Unfortunately, that nightmare describes humanity’s situation for the coming climate change final exam. While the stakes for flunking the COVID-19 quiz have been crushing – over 425,000 people dead globally by mid-June, economies crippled, and an as-yet unrealized catastrophe looming for many nations in the developing world – the cost of failing our inevitable collective climate change final exam will be apocalyptic for civilization.”
Daniel Bezte is the weather columnist for the Manitoba Co-operator. His article appeared in the July 2, 2020 issue.