Global Climate Snapshot: State of the Planet 2013

Happy New Year and welcome to the second annual installment of the unofficial Global Alarm Bell Index (GAB Index). I know you’ve all been desperately waiting to see if the GAB Index increased in 2013, so let’s get started.

Global Temperatures: 3 Alarm Bells


NOAA says 2013 was the fourth-warmest year on record, and the hottest since 2010. Nine of the warmest ten years on record have occurred since 2000. Etc, etc. What they don’t say is that all of those warm years have been measuring within such a narrow range that the increase in temperatures has all but stopped – the decade 2004-2013 was only 0.1 degree Celsius warmer than the decade before it. This is the lowest decade-to-decade increase since 1982, and barring a ridiculously record hot year next year, the decadal increase will drop safely below 0.1 degree / decade in 2014.

It’s going to take a lot more than the pace of the last 15 or so years to hit the predicted 2-6 degrees of warming by the end of the century; we’re barely on pace for 1 degree right now, and even scientific journals like Nature are starting to publish acknowledgements of the pause and trying to explain why their earlier models didn’t predict it. Some say the heat is all hiding in the ocean and will be reflected in the surface temperature data any time now, but until that appeal to the future actually happens, I’m arbitrarily dropping the alarm bells from 4 to 3.

Arctic Sea Ice: 8 Alarm Bells

After a very alarming record low in 2012, the arctic sea ice made a remarkable recovery in 2013, leaping back to only the 7th worst minimum ever with record increases in both percentage and absolute terms. This provides at least some assurance that things can get better more quickly than we previously thought. Some are quick to claim this as a complete recovery, but the records were only possible because the previous values were so low, and the overall trend is still markedly downward. So I’m only going to arbitrarily dial back the Alarm Bells here from 10 to 8.

Antarctic Sea Ice: 0 Alarm Bells


The other side of the globe continues to paint a different picture. 2013 Antarctic sea ice remained above average for the entire year, reaching the second-highest minimum on record and the third-highest maximum on record. Meanwhile, the top five maximums and top six minimums in the 35-year record have all come since 2000, pointing to an continuing increase in ice.

Claims that the ice is thinning and will start to show up in the surface data remain an appeal to the future. There are also claims the the land ice is really what matters because it is melting and contributing to sea level rise, but as we shall see below, that’s not an increasing concern yet, either. I’m going to have to stick with 0 Alarm Bells for the second year in a row.

Atlantic Hurricanes: 0 Alarm Bells

Despite early predictions of an active season with 7-11 hurricanes and 3-6 major ones, the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season was a complete dud, with 0 major (Category 3+) hurricanes for the first time since 1994 and the fewest total hurricanes (2) for the first time since 1982.

atlantic-hurricanes-2013This makes the 10-year moving average of major hurricanes the lowest since 2003, hinting that we may be coming off a peak that looks remarkably similar to a sinusoidal peak from the 1950’s. The record year of 2005 (Katrina, et. al.) is increasingly looking like an outlier and not a new normal; in fact, the United States has not had any major hurricanes hit landfall since that season, a “drought” that is its own record. If activity picks up instead of continuing to decline we will raise the alarm bells again, but for now I am arbitrarily dropping them to 0.

Pacific Hurricanes: 3 Alarm Bells

In my efforts to include as much data as possible (and do as little cherry-picking as possible), I have decided to add Pacific ocean activity to my snapshot, especially since it is much larger than the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also much more complicated – I’m still getting used to the hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons and how to understand all the trends therein.

I can tell you that the 9 hurricanes and 1 major hurricane of the 2013 Pacific season were respectively average and below average for the area and well below the record 1992 year. Furthermore, the six strongest Pacific seasons are all from 1992 and earlier, suggesting things are not getting worse.

But apparently that’s just the eastern Pacific. The western Pacific typhoon season spawned an above-average 13 typhoons with 5 “super” typhoons. In particular, Hayian/Yolanda devastated the Philippines and apparently was the strongest storm ever to strike land and may have the strongest wind speeds ever recorded. So that’s something. I’m still looking for good historical data on year-by-year seasonal activity.

So, in summary, the Eastern Pacific was weak but the Western Pacific was strong and involved a record-breaking storm, which I think arbitrarily warrants like three alarm bells.

US Tornadoes: 0 Alarm Bells

The 2013 tornado season was a dud, with perhaps the fewest tornadoes on record in the United States. There were only 28 F3+ tornadoes, which will add to the trendless major tornado graph below once the NCDC adds another little blue line on the end that will be very similar to 2012’s:

There was a notable tornado that struck Oklahoma, apparently being the widest ever reported, but since the data is not as extensive on that I don’t think it warrants any alarm bells. I am going to arbitrarily assign 0 alarm bells for tornadoes for a second year in a row.

Sea Level Rise: 2 Alarm Bells

My source for sea level data has only updated through the first nine months of 2013, where they have the sea averaging about 2.63mm higher than 2012. The Colorado site still says the same average long-term rise of 3.2mm/year that it said a year ago, which is still a pace of far less than half a meter by the end of the century (in other words, not that scary).

But that’s assuming the increase stays constant. Of course, it could accelerate, but if anything it’s actually decelerating. The data’s not long enough to do much with 10-year moving averages, but the decade ending in 2013 only averaged a rise of 3.13mm/yr which is slightly less than the 3.26mm/yr for the decade ending in 2003. The last five years also had a lower increase in average from the previous five years than the two previous five-year periods.

OK, enough with the arbitrary data crunching. The point is that the measured sea level is rising, but very slowly and definitely not accelerating anywhere near fast enough to reach terrifying predicted levels. So I’m going to keep the modest 2 alarm bells from sea level rise for a second consecutive year. If the deceleration becomes more pronounced next year, I may drop it lower.

US Drought: 3 Alarm Bells

Drought in 2013 wasn’t quite as bad in the US as 2012, but over half the country was considered to be in some level of drought for almost the entire year, according to the Drought Monitor. Depending on which level of droughtness you look at, the metric either went up or down a bit, but still pretty elevated compared to the rest of this century so far.

us-drought-2013I decided that my arbitrary Drought Point Index was double-counting extreme levels of drought, so I arbitrarily re-jiggered it and come up with 139 Drought Points for 2013, which is slightly lower than the 141 Drought Points from 2012, but the last two years are still easily the two highest values in the (short) 13 year history.

That’s the most quantifiable data I can find. However, NCDC has their own Palmer drought indexes here, and they all look something like this…. a.k.a. no trend at all and definitely no drought as bad as the 1930’s:

us-palmer-drought-2013Actually these Palmer indexes don’t even make the last two years look as bad as 2000-2002, much less the 30’s or even 50’s. So even though I like my Drought Monitor stats because they precisely assign four levels of drought across the whole country to percentages of two decimal places each, I’m gonna have to place more emphasis on these longer-term data points which do not indicate any long-term increase in drought; we had a really bad PHDI score in 2012 but it didn’t stay bad two years in a row. So I’m gonna arbitrarily drop the drought alarm bells from 5 to 3 this year while continuing to not weight them very highly in my arbitrary Global Alarm Bell index.

Total Adjusted 2013 GAB Index: 2.61 Alarm Bells

Global temperatures are pausing; sea level rise is decelerating; Antarctic sea ice is still growing; hurricanes and tornadoes and drought still aren’t increasing. The only thing that’s still really bad is Arctic sea ice but even that’s not as far gone as we thought.

So after carefully feeding these arbitrary values into my arbitrary Alarm Bell Weighting Algorithm, I have calculated a Total Adjusted 2013 Global Alarm Bell Index of 2.61 Alarm Bells, which you will notice is a remarkable decrease from the 2012 GAB Index of 3.46, giving us a Global Alarm Bell Anomaly of -0.85 Alarm Bells! To help you properly adjust your concern level, let me reprint my handy dandy Alarm Bell Response Chart:


I guess you all did such a good job planting trees last year that all you need to do this year is double-check on that ocean to make sure your house can handle a storm surge that might be 2.5mm higher than last year’s.

Thanks again for reading this far. We’ll re-visit the State of the Planet in about a year and see how those alarm bells are ringing.

Global Climate Snapshot: Fall 2013

Time to see what the planet is up to these days according to The Official Data.

Oceans And Ice

1. Arctic Sea Ice. After a record low last year, the arctic ice cap recovered with record growth that left it with only the 7th-lowest minimum ever. But that’s still historically low, so was it just an example of “two steps down, one step up”? Maybe, though the rebound was so high that it rivaled recent recovery years after the previous 2007 record low; in other words, it was more like “two steps down, two steps back up.” But the fall refreeze is stating to fall behind 2008, so we’ll have to see if the northern hemisphere can keep out of its new lower range or not. If not, then YES the arctic still looks like it’s melting.

2. Antarctic Sea Ice. Meanwhile, the southern ice cap continues to refuse to melt. Depending on which data you look at, this year’s maximum was either the highest or third-highest ever, the second year in a row of record or near-record ice levels. NO, the Antarctic sea ice still shows no evidence – indeed, the exact opposite – of a warming planet.

3. Sea Level Rise. The data is still tracking at 3.2mm per year. 2013 is on track for another record sea level, but there is still zero sign of acceleration since the 1990’s.


4. US Heat. The United States is on track to have its 28th warmest year ever – up from 40th through June. That still doesn’t sound very scary, although after last year’s record high it’s still pretty high for a low year, and if you draw a line across the high years from the 1980’s and the low years from the 1980’s they both look like they’re going up. YES the US looks like a warming country.

5. World Heat. The global data, however, remains ambiguous. The year 2013 has bumped up from seventh-warmest in June to sixth-warmest through September, but I’m still seeing a pretty straight line since the late 1990’s, or NO rise in global temperatures for 15+ years.

Weather Disasters

6. Drought. US drought has improved further since the summer, especially in the more extreme categories. 2013 still looks like a pretty bad year, though, continuing the trend of the last 2-3 years, though I’m pretty sure we are still nowhere near the extreme historical drought years of the 1930’s.

Three months ago, the “West” region was on track for a record dry year and the “Upper Midwest” was on track for a record wet year, possibly suggesting an increase in extremes. Since then, however, the regions have fallen to second-dryest and eleventh-wettest, respectively, possibly suggesting that the shorter trends were just noise in a mass of data.

7. Tornadoes. US tornadoes appear to be on track for a record low year, which is remarkable considering the likely poorer detection of such events in the past. As you might expect, the statistics on the stronger F3+ tornadoes show no increase, either. NO things are not getting worse with tornadoes.

8. Wildfires. Despite the headlines, US 2013 wildfire data is little changed since the summer, with the year still on pace for the lowest number of wildfires and second-lowest number of acres in the last 10 years. With the season winding down we are likely on pace for a pretty uneventful year; we’ll look at the long-term data in January.

9. Atlantic Hurricane Season. This year is turning out to be quite a dud, with only 2 named hurricanes so far, neither of them major, and only a month or so of declining activity left to go.

10. Pacific Hurricane Season. The Pacific has had quite a bit more action, with eight hurricanes and and eleven typhoons. I’m not as familiar with this side of the planet yet, but it doesn’t look like we’re breaking any records this year, though I’m not sure yet about long-term trends.


So far in 2013, the Arctic and Antarctic ice levels both look very good, though the long-term trend in the Arctic is still very bad. Things still do not seem to be getting worse with global temperatures, US tornadoes, or hurricanes in the oceans. In January we’ll look at the entire year of 2013 and give an update to the highly anticipated Global Alarm Bell (GAB) Index!

Global Climate Snapshot: State of the Planet 2012

2012 has come and gone. It’s time to look at the official data and figure out how alarmed we should be about how warm the planet is getting. To help you with that, I have created the unofficial Global Alarm Bell Index (GAB Index), comprised of a highly scientific mix of seven complicated factors. Let’s begin.

Global Temperatures: 4 Alarm Bells

NOAA declared that 2012 was the tenth warmest year on record. That doesn’t sound too scary, though they are quick to explain that “this marks the 36th consecutive year” of “above average” temperatures, and that only one year before 2000 was warmer than 2012, and that 2012 was the warmest “La Niña” year ever. They also inform us that “record warmth” was observed in many specific areas, while “no record cold regions were observed.”

Most of that data suggests that the planet is warmer than it used to be a few decades ago. But it doesn’t tell us if the planet is getting exponentially warmer, or getting a little bit warmer, or just settling at this “above average” level.

2012-global-temp-anamolyRather than increasing, or even holding steadily, the global temp slope appears to have leveled off since the 90’s. I can slice the data to sound just as un-alarming as NOAA’s alarming slices. NOAA doesn’t tell us that the 10-year moving average of the temperature anomaly (a longer-term trend than any individual year) has now decreased for two consecutive years, the first time this has happened since at least the 70’s. The last ten years (2003-2012) were still warmer than the ten years before it (1993-2002), but by only 0.136 degrees, which is the smallest decade-by-decade increase since 1994.

Temperatures have gotten warmer in the last decade, but at a slower rate than the previous decade. If current trends hold (and of course they may not), the earth will not get any warmer in the next decade. For 2012, I’m giving the Global Temperature Record an arbitrary 4 alarm bells out of 10 for its contribution to the GAB Index.

Continue reading Global Climate Snapshot: State of the Planet 2012

Global Climate Snapshot: Fall 2012

It’s been three months since the Summer 2012 snapshot, and it’s time for an updated look at the official scientific data. Does it show the earth breaking new records? Is it breaking them as fast as scientists have predicted?

Oceans and Ice

Arctic sea ice.


After several years of stalling, the northern polar cap retreated significantly to a record low in September. It quickly recovered to the previous October lows, but even now it is drifting into new record low territory for this time of the year. Skeptics continue to claim it’s just part of a cycle that’s bigger than our relatively short satellite record of 30+ years, and the ice definitely didn’t disappear this summer as some scientists predicted five years ago, but it’s still hard to ignore a new low that’s hundreds of thousands of square kilometers below the previous record. For the first time I’m going to say that YES the arctic ice cap looks like global warming.

Continue reading Global Climate Snapshot: Fall 2012

Global Climate Snapshot: Summer 2012

It’s been three months since my first Global Climate Snapshot, and it’s time for an updated look at the many forms of official data concerning our planet. Many skeptics distrust the official data about some things for one reason or another, but let’s assume it’s real and see what it says. When I analyze data about the earth’s climate, I look for two things to help judge whether or not it points to (man-made) global warming: 1) Are we reaching new records? 2) Are we reaching them as fast as scientists have predicted?

Oceans and Ice

Arctic Sea Ice.


The northern ice cap had its best spring in a decade, but all that extra ice has melted, and the sea ice is currently flirting with the record low years of 2007 and 2011. So far, NO, the cap is not retreating to new records. After the record low of 2007, some predicted the ice might be gone entirely by this summer. But not only will the ice not disappear entirely, it may not even be any smaller at all. It doesn’t look strong, though, and it is very possible we will see a new low this year.

Continue reading Global Climate Snapshot: Summer 2012

Global Climate Snapshot: Spring 2012

I am a global warming agnostic. A lot of people are completely convinced global warming is real. A lot of other people call themselves “skeptics,” but they are just as completely convinced that global warming is not real. I am biased towards that latter viewpoint, based on everything I have read and seen, but I am on the whole undecided, because there is also evidence that points the other way.

I thought it would be useful, then, to begin summarizing recent news about the environment and whether these events point towards or against the notion that the earth is warming and making lots of bad things happen. This will help me keep track of climate trends, and also help you form a more complete opinion in case you heard about some of these events but not all of them.

Note: I do not care about studies or computer models that suggest that the green Tibetan juice beetle could potentially decrease in size by 10% thanks to a slight increase in ocean acidity, or anything like that. I’m talking about actual things that are actually happening. Give me data! Let’s begin…

Continue reading Global Climate Snapshot: Spring 2012