2014 was the hottest year on record – until 2015 became the hottest year on record. 2015 didn’t get to hold the title long either; 2016 quickly displaced it with new record-setting temperatures. And now, it appears that 2017 has a good shot at being the new record-holder, which would make four record-setting years in a row. Every month of 2017, so far, has been among the top three hottest for each month, respectively, according to NOAA data. (NASA, which uses a more recent set of data, places June in the “top four” hottest Junes ever.) Overall, the first six months of the year were 1.64°F (0.91°C) above the 20th century average of 56.3°F (13.5°C), according to NOAA. 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000; the last record-setting cold year was 1911.
On August 17, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that in July, the Earth experienced the second hottest month on record. NOAA began keeping records in 1880. The mean temperature in July, planet-wide, was 61. 9 degrees Fahrenheit (16.63 Celsius), which was only .09 degrees lower than the mean temperature in July 2016.
But the land temperatures alone did set a record at 59.96 degrees (15.5 Celsius), one-seventh of a degree hotter than the previous year.
The heat set records in Africa, Australia, parts of Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, according to NOAA scientist Jake Crouch. This summer has seen heat waves in places unaccustomed to these temperatures, such as the Pacific Northwest. Higher temperatures have more drastic effects than merely making us sweat more. Heat waves in the Arctic lead to higher sea levels; high temperatures in the atmosphere make for more severe storms, and contribute to phenomena such as the wildfires that swept Alberta, Canada last year, and in Portugal this year.
2016 was hot in part because of El Niño, the cyclical band of hot water that develops periodically in the Pacific, but 2017 will be nearly as hot, if not even hotter, and El Niño is not a factor this year. Michael Mann, director of the Earth Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, says, “(T)he spate of record-warm years that we have seen in the 21st century can only be explained by human-caused climate change … The effect of human activity on our climate is no longer subtle. It’s plain as day, as are the impacts — in the form of record floods, droughts, superstorms and wildfires — that it is having on us and our planet.”