Environment

It’s hot, Florida. Get used to it, climate scientists say

pportal@miamiherald.com

Florida just survived its warmest year on record. But no time for relief. Federal climate scientists issuing their annual report Tuesday had this cheery news to pass along: Get used to it.

The El Niño that amplified global conditions may be over, but its effects may reverberate for a while to come.

The arrival of El Niño in the Pacific is like a giant ringing a bell so loudly that it knocks the dishes off the shelves in a house down the street.

2015 State of the Climate report released Tuesday

“The arrival of El Niño in the Pacific is like a giant ringing a bell so loudly that it knocks the dishes off the shelves in a house down the street,” wrote the authors of the 2015 State of the Climate report, an annual survey compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and scientists around the globe. “The atmosphere hears the echoes from El Niño from thousands of miles away.”

Considered an “annual physical” for the planet, the report looks at conditions including surface, ocean and atmospheric temperatures, ice melt, sea rise and greenhouse gases that influence planetary events. The lesson to take away from this year’s report? Heat.

Long-term global warming and last year’s El Niño made 2015 the hottest on record, triggering a string of heat-related events, including:

▪  Greenhouse gases that were the highest on record.

▪ Temperatures higher than the pre-industrial revolution averages.

▪ Close to record-breaking heat on every inhabited continent on the planet.

▪  The highest sea surface temperatures on record and the highest upper ocean temps, reflecting an accumulation of thermal energy in the ocean’s top layers.

And so far, it looks like that trend is continuing in 2016 even as El Niño fizzles, with year-to-date land and ocean temperatures — 1.89 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average — the highest ever documented.

Clearly the report in 2015 shows not only that the temperature of the planet is increasing, but all the related symptoms you might expect to see with rising temperature are also occurring.

Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

“Clearly the report in 2015 shows not only that the temperature of the planet is increasing, but all the related symptoms you might expect to see with rising temperature are also occurring,” Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, said in a telephone briefing.

While the report documented conditions last year — including an arctic warming at twice the rate of lower latitudes, the lowest arctic sea ice coverage in 37 years and the 36th consecutive year of glacial ice melt — the causes were not addressed. That information will be released in October, Karl said.

El Niño systems typically amplify existing conditions, so warming patterns get magnified. That can mean a little moisture in the system becomes record rain and a warm spring can turn downright steamy. In Florida, a record warm spring led up to a fall that also broke records. This past El Niño-fueled winter, which isn’t included in the 2015 report, also broke records in rainfall. That led to a host of ecological problems including a toxic algae bloom on the Treasure Coast and flooded Cape Sable seaside sparrow nesting grounds in the Everglades.

Climatologists project that El Niño will be followed by a La Niña system, but they aren’t sure yet how strong it will be. What they do know is that it’s unlikely to reverse conditions.

“Just because the El Niño has ended doesn’t mean we’re going to go back to where we were before,” said NOAA climatologist and lead editor Jessica Blunden. “We’re going to continue to decline.”

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