The Year in Review (Climatically)

2010 was a pretty drama-filled year. There was the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners and the excitement of the World Cup and those crazy vuvuzelas, but it was also a year when climatic events made major headlines. So, before we plunge straight into 2011 and forget all about last year's old news (Chatroulette, anyone?) let's do a quick look back at what our ever-warming and changing world brought us in 2010.

My #1 climate-related event of 2010 isn't a natural one (although it's hard to say what a natural phenomenon is anymore with humans at the helm of our climate system) - it's the BP oil spill. 5 million barrels of oil dumped into the Gulf, thousands of wildlife killed, including over 6000 birds and over 600 sea turtles. One might hope that this was the wake-up call we needed to switch over to cleaner sources of energy, but by the end of the year, not much had changed. Oil continues to dominate our energy supply.

Now moving from the oil itself to the effects it has on the climate system once we burn it. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies), 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record. (The other primary source of global temperature data comes from the UK, a combination of data from the Hadley Center and Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. They put 2010 at #2 hottest year, behind 1998. The main difference in the two datasets is how they deal with the lack of data from the Arctic. NOAA and GISS extrapolate out from the few data points they have; Hadley/CRU does not. Read more about this in a great Climate Central article here.)

So now the top 10 hottest years on record looks like this, according to NOAA:


9 of the 10 are in the last decade with 1998 standing as the lone outlier from the 20th century.

Click here for a map view of how this played out around the world with Canada getting the brunt of the heat.

The record-breaking global warmth had specific impacts around the globe. One of the most memorable of these was the 2-month long heat wave and subsequent wildfires in Russia over the summer in which over 15,000 people died. This persistent weather pattern was also the source of the massive flooding and landslides in Pakistan that put 20% of the country under water and killed over 1500 people.

Here in the U.S., we were spared most of the heat-related extremes that hit other parts of the world. Despite being a warmer than average year for the country, (See the red dots across the U.S. in the map above.) the most memorable weather events of the year were the cold and snowy ones - the Snowmaggedon that hit the east coast last winter. These storms were responsible for feet upon feet of snow piled up in east coast cities, as well as for a decline in U.S. public opinion that global warming is real, happening and caused by people. Unfortunate, but weather is weather and it will do what it wants. The storms themselves were the result of an extreme mode of what's called the Arctic Oscillation, where high pressure sits over the Arctic and pushes cold air down south, bringing the storms along with it. Read more about how this works from NOAA's ClimateWatch magazine here.

So that's the climate highlights of 2010! Read more highlights and NOAA's top 10 climate events of 2010 here. As I write, Tahoe is basking in sunny, balmy weather. Reno broke records last week with temperatures in the 70s. Climate change or not? We'll have to wait and see...