Last year was the hottest year ever — or at least the warmest since we humans began recording this sort of thing in 1880. We have officially stripped the previous hottest year, 2010, of the distinction, with global temperatures rising about .07 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about .04 degrees Celsius). The stand-alone temperature increase may be relatively small, but 10 of the past record-breaking years have come after 1997. This year also marks the 38th consecutive year of above-average temperatures, leading scientists to point to these gradual, but relentless, increases as a sign of continued global warning.
Before you start going all “but what about the polar vortex!?” on this data, besides that pocket of frigid terribleness in the eastern and Midwestern United States — NASA described it as “anomalously cool” — most regions were sweating and scorching under record heat. The western U.S., specifically California, Nevada, and Arizona, surpassed its warmest temperatures, as did Alaska. The west’s brutal heat combined with the rest of the country’s soul-crushing cold only gave America its 34th hottest year.
The rest of the world had it pretty rough. Much of Europe experienced some of the highest temperatures in about 100 years, and heat waves, many severe, hit parts of Russia, North Africa, China, and South America, particularly Brazil and Bolivia. There were other small pockets of below-average cool (see NASA’s map, above), but there’s a heck of a lot more yellow-orange on Planet Earth than blue.
Some skeptics claimed the increase in temperature was negligible, and the world might not even be hotter than 2010 or 2005 (another record year) when accounting for the margin of error. Other scientists say the general upward trend, especially since 2000, supports warming, with some of the more extreme weather patterns a scary sign for the future.