Global Climate Snapshot: Summer 2013

When we last left the planet, the ice caps were still melting and not melting, and the world was refusing to heat up. Let’s see what three more months of data have to tell us.

Oceans and Ice

1. Arctic Sea Ice.

The northern ice cap hit a new recorded low last summer, but this year’s levels have looked more promising; the ice stayed at decade-highs even into early summer, when the highs of recent years have tended to fade into record lows. Despite some recent hullabaloo about a pond at the North Pole, the entire arctic is currently sitting at a three-year high and acting like it might slow down to a better year, though still threatening to melt away at any time, and regardless, the levels are still quite historically low. YES the Arctic still looks like evidence for a warming planet.

2. Antarctic Sea Ice.

As the northern cap heads toward its summer minimum, the southern cap is heading toward its winter maximum, registering almost a million square kilometers above average for the second winter in a row. NO the Antarctic ice cap still does not look like evidence for a warming planet.

3. Sea Level Rise. (Analysis unchanged from last quarter) The data continues to track at 3.2mm per year, which still indicates a rising ocean but still not an accelerated level that would give us more than a foot or so by the end of the century. Hard to say whether that indicates a globe that is still warming or not.


4. US Heat.

US temperatures continue to come in just above average; we’re currently on track to have the 40th hottest year in recorded history, which doesn’t sound very scary. Last year’s big record still makes me hesitant to say there is no more warming being seen by this metric, but it does look like the “low” years haven’t gotten any warmer in the last 25 years.

5. World Heat.

Through March the official data had 2013 as the eighth-warmest year on record, and now it’s been bumped up to seventh place. This looks like the second-hottest year of the last six years, but that’s really just indicative of how not-hot it’s been lately, since we’re still not seeing any increase, much less runaway acceleration, to come close to surpassing the hottest years of the last two decades. As I said in the spring, I think any honest reading of the above graph would conclude that we still are seeing NO recorded rise in average global temperatures for the last 15+ years.

Weather Disasters

6. Drought.

Drought in the US has improved a bit since the spring, but over half the country is still said to be in some form of drought, and whether you look at the lower levels like D0 or the more intense levels like D4, 2013 is still on track to be the worst year for US drought based on the Drought Monitor data since 2000, extending the “record” drought from 2012.

However, that’s still a very short amount of data. Let’s look at long-term US precipitation records.

I still see zero long-term changes on that graph. Last year was below normal through June, this year is above. But what if the average is the same, even for the whole contiguous US, yet parts of it are getting more extreme? After all, I remember drought and flooding both happening earlier this year.

Well, it turns out that the West region is on track for a record low year of precipitation, and the Upper Midwest is on track for record high precipitation. That’s actually pretty interesting for 100+ years of data, although most of the other regions look pretty normal, and it’s possible that other regions have had simultaneous highs and lows together and that such occurrences are not happening more frequently. But I don’t have time to investigate that, so to be as fair to the alarmists as possible I think there are a few indicators that YES things are getting worse right now with regard to drought. We’ll see how the whole year turns out.

7. Tornadoes.

Due partially to the continuing drought, tornado counts are in the bottom quartile of the records for the second year in a row. We did have a couple of big news events with tornadoes devastating cities in Oklahoma, including one that was said to be the widest on record, although I don’t know how good of historical records we have on that. In total, we’ve only had 16 F3+ tornadoes so far this year, and with the brunt of tornado season behind us, it’s looking like an even lower year (last year we had 26 at this point and finished with 29). Not only do we continue to see no long-term increase in severe tornadoes, but this year may end up as one of the lowest ever. NO things are not getting worse with tornadoes.

8. Wildfires. I finally got my hands on some good wildfire data. I’ve seen a lot of headlines this year about wildfires in the West US, but apparently this year has seen the lowest number of fires since 2004, and the second-lowest number of acres burned. I don’t have any long-term data, but when you consider how our fire prevention techniques actually lead to more fires, the fact that this year is a recent low in spite of that is even more surprising.

9. Atlantic Hurricane Season. We’ve named four tropical storms so far this season, but none of them have been strong enough to be labelled hurricanes; this seems to be pretty average for this point in the year. It’s too early to say what will happen in the coming months, but we can at least say that we’re behind pace again for breaking 2005’s record season, which still looks pretty anomalous eight years later and NOT indicative of an increasing trend in hurricanes.

10. Pacific Hurricane Season. I’ve only been looking at the Atlantic so far, but to cover more data I should also be looking at the much larger Pacific. So far 2013 has seen six storms with four of them hurricanes. I’m not that familiar with the Pacific data yet, but it looks like the highest years on record are all from the 1900’s, and this year is not on pace to rival those (at this point in 1992, we had twelve named storms with seven of them hurricanes). For now I’m going to say that NO there is no increasing trend in Pacific hurricanes, either.


So far in 2013, things aren’t looking too good for the Arctic sea ice, where trends still look increasingly worse, or drought in the US, where some metrics are showing record extremes. However, things do not seem to be getting worse these days in southern sea ice, global temperatures, US tornadoes, or hurricanes in either major ocean. I’ll check again in three months.