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May 2010 Global State of the Climate

Is it getting hotter or is summer has come early? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report recently about the state of the global climate, and the results were not pretty. It turns out the combined global land and ocean surface temperatures set a record in May. In fact, from March to May, it was the hottest spring on record. Furthermore, the whole first half of the year, from January to May was also the warmest on record.

In May, land and ocean temperatures were 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit (F) above the twentieth century average of 58.6 F. Land surface alone was 1.87 F above the average, and the oceans were 0.99 F above average. Most parts of the planet felt these warmer temperatures. The greatest anomalies were in eastern North America, eastern Brazil, Eastern Europe, south Asia, eastern Russia, and equatorial Africa. Several spots that saw cooler temperatures were western North America, northern Argentina, interior Asia, and Western Europe.

These temperature differences also occurred throughout the whole spring. Combined land and ocean temperatures were 1.31 F above the average. Land surface alone was 2.2 F above average, and ocean surface was 0.99 F above the average. Regionally high temperatures occurred in northern North America, northern Africa, Eastern Europe, south Asia, and parts of Australia, especially Tasmania. The northeastern United States had its hottest spring on record. On the other hand, cooler temperatures were found in the western US and East Asia. Plus, Western Europe saw one of the driest springs on record.

To add to the global climate woe, ice caps and glaciers have been melting more rapidly. Artic sea ice had its smallest May footprint since records began in 1979. It melted fifty percent faster than its average May melting rate. However, Antarctic sea ice cover extended to 7.3% above its May average. In the northern hemisphere, snow cover was at a record low. This includes the northern parts of North America and Eurasia, including Greenland.

It seems like setting new high temperatures is the norm these days. Efforts should be made to slow down global warming. But at the same time, people all over the world will have to adapt to a changing planet. There is a chance that our best efforts may not be enough to stop this cycle from continuing into the foreseeable future.

Each month NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) releases two assessments, one national and one global, of the previous month’s climate. These reports include information on the temperature and precipitation levels experienced nationally and globally, providing useful information about these important climate variables in historical perspective. The reports also chronicle any significant weather and climate-related events that occurred during the month. This trusted source of information is used globally by industry and business, government agencies, academia, and members of the public to help inform decision making.

Summary Figures from the Global Report
The global report is a monthly snapshot of the climate system around the globe that informs the public of the current state of the global climate and helps planners, academics and sector users factor the climate’s current state and recent trends into their decision making. The report details the average global land temperature, the average global ocean temperature, and the combined average of the two. Instead of using raw temperatures, the report presents temperature anomalies, which means the difference from average temperatures for any given area over a period of time. Using anomalies allows for a more accurate understanding of temperature trends over space and time, even with some fluctuations in data availability (see additional information below).

May 2010 Global Temperature Anomalies
Global surface temperature anomalies for the month of May from 1880 to 2010.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

This figure depicts the global surface temperature anomalies for the month of May from 1880 to 2010.


    * It was the warmest May on record for the global surface temperature as a whole, and for the land surfaces of the globe.
    * It was the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere and for land areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
    * The May 26th high temperatures of 128.3 F (53.5 C) in MahenjuDaro, Pakistan – if verified – may threaten all-time records for the region.
    * This was the 303rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.

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