Very warm 2020 linked to record number of billion-dollar U.S. weather disasters


COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Global temperatures measured by NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2020 was essentially tied for the warmest year on record, based on thousands of land and ocean measurements and data obtained from a fleet of satellites.

The average temperature of Earth in 2020 was fractionally (.04 degree F) below the 2016 record, and 1.76 degrees F above the long-term (20th century) average, according to NOAA. NASA data placed 2020 in a virtual tie with 2016. (Datasets are treated with slightly different methodologies and weighting of regions such as the Arctic.)

The results were a little surprising, since solar activity is at a minimum (weakest solar cycle in more than a century), and the tropical Pacific cooled during the latter half of the year (La Nina).

Studies revealed that the world’s oceans were also unusually warm in 2020, despite a decrease in global emissions of carbon dioxide resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown.

Global ocean temperatures in 2020 ranked as the third highest on record, and land temperatures were the warmest. The warmth was further confirmed in data measured by satellites in the lowest five miles of the atmosphere.

The Northern Hemisphere, Europe and Asia had their warmest years on record in 2020, while North America had its 10th warmest year, based on data compiled by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

The seven warmest years on record globally, with data back to 1880, have occurred since 2014.

A record 22 billion-dollar disasters occurred in the U.S. in 2020, surpassing 2017 and 2011 (16). The Atlantic Basin had a record 30 named tropical cyclones, exceeding the previous mark of 28 in 2005, including a historic number of landfalling storms (12).

The U.S. reported 52,113 wildfires that burned nearly 8.9 million acres in 2020. California had its worst fire season (9,917 fires scorched more than 4.2 million acres), which claimed 33 lives and damaged or destroyed 10,488 structures. Wildfires also raged in the Pacific Northwest and parts of Rocky Mountains.

Expanding drought related to the heat, which dries out fuels (vegetation), coupled with a very long dry season (April to November) without little or no rain in the Southwest, accounted for the disastrous wildfires. Temperature and humidity play a major role in the number of fires, which are exacerbated by windy conditions.

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