The number of climate records broken in the last few years is astonishing. Though there’s a new level of misery: Not only did we just experience the hottest April in 137 years of record keeping, but it was the 12th consecutive month to set a new record.
It’s been relentless. May 2015 was the hottest May in records dating back all the way to 1880. Being followed by the hottest June, and along came a record July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March—and, we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday—the hottest April. In an age of rising temperatures, monthly heat records have become all too common. Still, a string of 12 of them is without precedent.
Perhaps even more remarkable is the magnitude of the new records. The extremes of recent months are such that we’re only four months into 2016 and already there’s a >99% chance that this year, once again, will be recorded the warmest year ever, according to Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
If NASA’s Schmidt is right, 2016 will be the the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record—the first time that’s ever happened. So far, 15 of the hottest 16 years ever measured have come in the 21st century.
Results from the world’s chief monitoring agencies vary slightly, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says April is only the seventh consecutive record-breaking month. But NASA, NOAA, and the Meteorological Center of Japan all agree that the extremes of 2016 are unrivaled in the modern climate record.
The NASA map below shows how heat was distributed across the globe last month. The most extreme heat blazed across the Arctic, where ice levels have been setting daily lows for this time of the year. Come summer, the ice cap at the top of the planet will likely be the smallest on record.
To be clear, some of this is the result of a monster El Niño weather pattern lingering in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño may finally be coming to an end, shifting this summer to a cooling La Niña by the time Arctic ice coverage reaches its nadir, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The agency gives a 75% chance of a La Niña pattern developing this year.
Beyond these cyclical changes, however, there seems no escaping the larger trend that we live on a planet that’s warming rapidly. Coastal cities are flooding more regularly, wildfires are starting early, and the world is in the midst of the most prolonged die-off of the ocean’s coral ever witnessed.
Perhaps most worrisome, if recent trends are any indication, is that it won’t be long before this record-hot year looks cool, compared to what’s coming.
The information in this article was gathered from Bloomberg.