The Heat Is Online

2016 -- a year of broken records

2016: a record-breaking year!, Dec. 28, 2016

This year was chock-full of superlatives — and not the good kind — thanks to a sweltering El Niño on top of decades of climate change:

1. The longest streak of record-breaking months, from May 2015 to August 2016. It was the hottest January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September since we began collecting data 137 years ago, according to NOAA.

2. The largest coral bleaching event ever observed. As much as 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef experienced record-breaking bleaching over the Southern Hemisphere summer, which also wreaked havoc to reefs across the Pacific in the longest-running global bleaching event ever observed.

3. The Arctic is getting really hot. Alaska saw its hottest year ever, with temperatures an average of 6 degrees F above normal. Arctic sea ice cover took a nosedive to a new low this fall, as temperatures at the North Pole reached an insane seasonal high nearly 50 degrees above average. Reminder: There is no sun in the Arctic in December.

4. The first year we spent entirely above 400 ppm.After the biggest monthly jump in atmospheric CO2 levels from February 2015 to February 2016, those levels stayed high for all of 2016.

5. The hottest year. Pending an extreme plunge in global temperatures in the next few days, 2016 will almost certainly be the warmest year humans have ever spent on the Earth’s surface.  Even if it weren’t the hottest year yet, context matters more than year-to-year comparisons. The last five years have been the hottest five on record. The last 16 years contain 15 of the hottest years on record. We are living in unprecedented times.