NASA scientist discusses global temperatures and weather extremes

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Both NASA and NOAA have concluded that 2020 was one of if not the hottest year on record.

NASA’s data shows 2020 as the hottest year on average. NOAA’s data has 2020 only 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than 2016, which held the previous record for hottest year.

Whether 2020 is first or second in your book, the takeaway is the same. There will be some variations, but the long-term trend shows global temperatures are increasing.

It is worth noting that the last seven years have been the seven hottest years on record.

Rachel Tilling, a Cryospheric Scientist with NASA, relays the message that our actions now will have impacts on our climate for years to come.

“The earth is this really complex, interconnected system. And if you push it like we are doing at the minute with global temperatures, it’s going to react in a number of extreme ways.”

There are different extremes to consider when discussing a warming climate. One of those is tropical activity. Last year saw 30 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season. Globally, there were 103 named storms. That ties the record number from 2018.

And although Tilling says you can’t say one year of hot temperatures is the direct cause of the plethora of tropical activity, there is the connection that increasing temperatures increase the likelihood of such events.

“So hurricanes are more likely to form and become more intense over warmer water. The long-term trend in temperature is upwards, which means the likelihood of these extreme events and these hurricanes, the likelihood is going to increase, and those storms and hurricanes will become more intense.”

2020 did see a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions due to the pandemic and COVID-19 shutdowns. But overall, CO2 concentrations were still on the rise. Experts project global temperatures to continue to rise as global carbon emissions also rise.

To collect this vast amount of global data, you need a global network. Some of that data collection could even be going on in your own backyard.

“There are weather stations probably in your local town, at the top of mountains, on the coast, all of those are continuously measuring temperature. And we have enough of those now across the planet that we can really start to get this global idea of what is happening in terms of temperature.”

And while it may be easy to think of climate change as a distant problem here in central North Carolina, it’s not an issue we can brush under the table. We could already be seeing some impacts now.

“Climate change will affect us all, even if it’s just in pretty subtle ways to start with. So you might see a change in your local weather, even if that’s just an increase in rainfall or the summers feel slightly longer. It can also affect crops, which will affect even the price of your grocery shop, and these will be subtle to start, but as the climate continues to warm, they will become more extreme as well,” says Tilling.

As we are in the beginning of 2021, it’s a good reminder to take care of our planet now so we can preserve it for the future.

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