At risk: shrinking Arctic ice is bad news for polar bears – and the planet.If Santa really lived at the North Pole his sleigh would run the risk of falling through the ice this week, empty or fully laden.
Temperatures in the high Arctic will approach melting point on Thursday, including near the North Pole, a massive 30 degrees or more above average for this time of the year.
Wide departures from temperature norms – usually on the warm side – have been a feature for a long while in the Arctic but this year’s extremes qualify the region as home to probably this year’s world’s weirdest weather.
The polar extremes are part of what is highly likely to be declared as the hottest year in records going back to the 1880s. And so, with 2016 eclipsing both 2015 and 2014, the world would have set a new high mark for three years in a row.
Here are some of this year’s outstanding weather and climate events: Extreme ice melt
This week’s bizarre temperature forecasts for the North Pole have been a regular – if usually less extreme – feature of 2016 for the Arctic.
Many northerly regions, such as in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, were 20 degrees above normal for the first half of November, for instance.
The situation is even worse further north, with computer modelling forecasting freakishly high temperatures in the high Arctic. Around the North Pole, temperatures were predicted to soar between 40 and 50 degrees above normal, approaching melting points despite this being the coldest time of the year.
“That’s pretty intense,” said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics.
(See below for the coming abnormal heat over the North Pole, via The Washington Post.)
As a result of warmer air and sea temperatures than normal, Arctic sea ice was 17.7 per cent below the 1981-2010 average in November, and the smallest extent for the month since the satellite era began in 1979, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says.
Less sea ice means that there will be less reflection of solar radiation when the sun returns to the far north, and therefore, more heat being absorbed by the now exposed oceans.
A similar retreat of sea ice is underway at the other end of the planet.
Last month, the extent of the Antarctic sea ice was 11.1 per cent below the 1981-2010 average, also the lowest for this time of year in 37 years of records.
The Antarctic story, though, is more complex given the impact of the great southern continent on the climate, with wind strengths one factor in shifting sea-ice totals.
Still, the spring sea-ice melt in the south is running about two weeks earlier than average and one week earlier the previous rapid melt, Blair Trewin, senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said. Early storms
Tropical cyclones had an unusually early start for the year, with Hurricane Pali becoming the earliest such storm on record for the central Pacific basin when it formed on January 11.
Only two other January cyclones had formed in the basin since 1949 data began, Weather南京夜网 said.
Two days later, on January 13, Hurricane Alex formed in the North Atlantic, the first such storm for the month in that basin since 1938, the NOAA, said.
Later in January, the north-eastern US copped Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped 70 centimetres (27.5 inches) of snow on New York City, the most since records began in 1868, NOAA said.
Scientists have drawn links between the loss of Arctic sea ice (see above) and longer winters across eastern North America as the polar vortex zone of frigid air encircling the Arctic weakens and buckles, sending ice blasts far to the south. Coral bleaching could have been worse
Coral bleaching caused by extreme warmth at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Climate Council
El Nino events in the Pacific typically produce unusually warm sea-surface temperatures, which, when overlaid on the background heating from climate change, push coral beyond key tolerance thresholds.
For the Great Barrier Reef, the extreme warmth resulted in its worst bleaching event, with more than 22 per cent of the corals dying. Many other reefs around the world also suffered bleaching.
Tourism authorities and governments were relieved that the impacts were mostly confined to the northern reefs away from the more accessible corals near Cairns and further to the south.
In fact, they have a monster storm to thank for that, with the powerful category-5 Cyclone Winston moving over southern Queensland after devastating Fiji and Tonga with its 285km/h winds in February.
The storm worked to cool the waters of the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef long enough and just in time, to prevent worse coral mortality. Extreme heat records
Death Valley National Park in California is one of the world’s hottest spots. Photo: Alamy
Global warming sceptics like to highlight long-standing heat records. But hot-day records are in fact falling much faster than cold day ones.
In Australia since 2000, for instance, a record hot day is now occurring 12 times faster than record cold days. During the first half of the 20th century, the ratio was roughly one-to-one, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
In 2016, though, the world has also had some bouts of remarkable daily heat, including the 54 degrees recorded in Mitribah, Kuwait, on July 16.
According to the Weather Underground blog, it was the hottest on record outside Death Valley in California.
The latter, at the aptly named Furnace Creek Ranch, was 56.7 degrees, recorded on July 10, 1913, although historians debate that high mark.
Other extreme heat in 2016 included 51 degrees recorded in Phalodi, Rajasthan, in India on May 19, making it the hottest day of record for that country.
The previous record of 50.6 degrees was set in May 1886, although a similar and perhaps more reliable reading was also recorded in 1956, the website said.
Among the year’s most significant heatwaves was one that swept across southern Africa in January, Dr Trewin said. Temperatures reached 43 degrees in Pretoria and 39 degrees in Johannesburg, both cities located more than 1000 metres above sea level, and breaking previous records by about 3 degrees.
“They are very high temperatures for such high locations,” Dr Trewin said. Strongest storm
Typhoon Meranti had one-minute sustained winds reaching 305km/h . Photo: Weather Channel
Whether known as Typhoon Meranti or Ferdie, this tropical cyclone was the most powerful in 2016 when it emerged in September.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre estimated the storm had one-minute sustained winds reaching 305km/h at its peak as it crossed the Philippines island of Itbayat. More than 10,000 people were affected.
It was still powerful when it reached the Chinese mainland, becoming the most powerful storm to hit Fujian province in at least 67 years when standard records began, Agence France Presse reported.
Hurricane Matthew was another significant storm, leaving at least 550 dead in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, before causing widespread flooding along the US south-eastern states in October.
Typhoon Lionrock at the end of August was also a major event, described as the worst natural disaster for North Korea in that state’s history. Big wet
As in every year, there were more than a few candidates for large-scale flood events.
The US provided several, including severe floods in May in Texas, and the widespread heavy falls along the eastern seaboard in September when Hurricane Hermine became the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years and then hugged the coast as it moved northwards.
The most costly floods, though, probably came in the Yangtze River region of China, where sustained rains caused a damage bill of more than $10 billion and left hundreds dead.
Central and western Europe also saw big floods in Paris in June.
Australia, though, warrants a mention because of the share scale and sustained nature of much of the rainfall.
It was officially Australia’s second-wettest winter, but taking the five months from May, the big wet was even more notable, especially for the eastern half of the country which had record rain.
(See chart below of how much of Australia had very much above or record levels of rain for May-September.)
Awaiting some wet relief are regions that were hard hit by drought during the El Nino of 2015-2016.
These include south-east Asia and southern Africa. While the latter region has had reasonable summer rains recently, the region has a long way to go before the dry years of 2014-15 and 2015-16 are made up, Dr Trewin said.
One positive in 2016 was a good monsoon in the sub-continent after a couple dry years. Hottest month
Surfers out early at Tamarama on a hot December day. Photo: Jessica Hromas
From a climate point of view July is typically the hottest month of the year. Temperatures over land fluctuate more than over water, and during northern summers more land is facing the sun than in southern summers so the mercury is higher than in January.
And so, with the lingering effects of the El Nino, this past July was the hottest month recorded, according to NOAA.
Average temperatures were 16.67 degrees across the planet that month, beating the previous July – then a record – by 0.06 degrees.
The biggest departure from the norm, though, came earlier in 2016. March was 1.23 degrees higher than the 20th century average, pipping the previous month for the record.
Of the 15 warmest monthly anomalies for global temperatures, all but one of them – January 2007 – have occurred since the start of 2015, NOAA says.
And if you were wondering when the last below-average month was globally, you have to go back to December 1984. Assuming December 2016 doesn’t freeze over in the next week, the tally of above-average months in a row will be 384 by year’s end. Hottest year
With so many warm months in both 2016 and 2015, this year is likely to only just edge out last year as the hottest on record.
Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, tells Fairfax Media this year will come in at about 0.14 degrees warmer than 2015.
NOAA, which includes less of the exceptional warming in the Arctic than NASA, will probably report a narrower margin of about 0.04 degrees, he estimates. Might not feel like it today, but 2016 will be the warmest year in the surface temperature records, 1.2ºC/2ºF above the late 19th C pic.twitter南京夜网/npGM1741Vf— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) December 15, 2016
While both years were boosted by an El Nino, a weather pattern in the Pacific that results in less heat being absorbed into the ocean compared with neutral years.
That said, it is notable that both 2015 and 2016 will be about one-third of a degree warmer than the year of the biggest El Nino event on record, which sharply lifted temperatures in 1998. (See NOAA chart below.)
Britain’s Met Office this week estimated temperatures will ease back in 2017 as any lingering El Nino boost dissipates.
Still, next year is likely to come in as third warmest, underscoring the warming trend in the climate as greenhouse gas concentrations climb ever higher.
And there will be more extreme weather events to come.
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