Hottest April, May and June on record – the heat is on and it’s early

Home » Hottest April, May and June on record – the heat is on and it’s early

By Ranyl Rhydwen, Senior Lecturer on MSc Sustainability and Adaptation – CAT’s brand new masters degree starting in September 2014.

April, May and June 2014 all hottest since records began

June 2014 has been reported as being the hottest June since records began in 1891 by the Japanese Meteorological society, 3rd hottest by NASA and hottest by NOAA – data released today. This follows on from April and May 2014, being the hottest or equal hottest since reliable records allow the earth’s temperature to be taken. The last time we saw three consecutive months break temperature records was in 2010 – the hottest year ever.

To break long term records like this with the natural variability inherent in the climate system is incredible and the odds of such things if there were no human induced warming would be exceptional. In a warming world, record breaking years are becoming more common, these headlines are becoming increasingly familiar.

California Drought climate change
Sacramento in California, one of the places experiencing severe drought (Photo: Kevin Cortopassi)

El Nino should make next spring even hotter

But that this year is breaking records is unexpected. One of the things that controls the natural variability in the climate is El Nino, which warms the surface temperature. El Nino events tend to start in the spring or summer, peak in December and last for about 10 months; but it is the year after they begin where they tend to cause the biggest temperature anomaly. Last time three consecutive months broke world records in 2010, and prior to that in the famously warm year 1998, we were into the second year of the El Nino.

An El Nino event occurs when warm waters flow back from the west pacific to the east pacific and cap off the cold upwelling waters off the west coast of Central America and Peru all the way to the Galapagos Islands; these cold waters normal cool the earth by a few tenths of degree. However when the warm waters return (and they do every 2-7 years) these cold waters disappear and thus the planet warms by a couple of tenths of a degree depending on how warm the waters are (or how severe the El Nino is, 2010 was a moderate event and 1998 was severe).

In 2010, the El Nino commenced in June 2009 and lasted until May 2010. Heating the world up takes time and thus the rise in the global temperature lags behind the El Nino arrival by around 6 months. Hence 2010 was the hottest year yet recorded and had by far the hottest spring in the records, whereas in 2009 spring was only the 6th warmest. What’s more, the El Nino that year had already emerged by June 2009; this current El Niño isn’t predicted to fully emerge until late summer this year.

The main point here is that it is the year after the El Niño that is the hot year, yet this time round the El Niño forming year is already bringing exceptionally hot months, suggesting that 2015 could well be another record hot year – depending on how severe this EL Niño turns out to be. The current predictions are suggesting this El Niño will be at least as strong as in 2010.

Increasing extreme weather

All this additional heat is also having an affect around the world: Hurricane Arthur this June was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the USA before July, and the 2 major hurricanes that formed in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico this May and June were both the strongest to have formed at this time of year since records began. Also this year we have seen severe hail storms in Europe, flooding across the Balkans, critical drought in California, outrageous flooding in south east China and severe heat in Siberia and Alaska.

El Niño’s tend to cause extreme weather around the world as all the additional heat changes global weather patterns. Australia gets drier, which will add to existing drought concerns there. The California drought should get some relief; rainfall will be higher. However even here the water may come as large deluge events as it does in Peru, and thus will cause flash flooding and severe erosion especially on such dried out lands. Look out for the severe extremes to come around the world next year. In the UK the affect of an El Niño isn’t that clear cut although the winters tend to be colder and drier in Northern Europe, and wetter, milder through southern Europe and the Mediterranean, which won’t be much comfort for the Balkans.

Sustainability and Adaptation Planning

As extreme events are becoming more common, the need to transform society and plan for the new normal becomes more pressing. Sustainability should be at the heart of the plans governments, organisations and communities are making for the future and so should adaptation. Both require us to start judiciously planning – involving people in proactively choosing how to respond. The extremes in the last few years – and the ones we are likely to experience over the next year – must be taken as a call for change.

Join us on our masters degree in September to explore about Sustainability and Adaptation in depth.