A Graphical Tour Through the Climate of 2011

New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show that for the 35th year in a row, the globe was warmer than average during 2011, and about the 10th-warmest year on record since 1880. Officials said warming was hindered somewhat by a La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean, but owing in part to the influence of manmade global warming, this was the warmest La Niña year on record.

This NASA graph shows the pace of global warming since 1880.

La Niña, which is characterized by cooler-than-average ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, tends to lead to cooler years compared to when water temperatures are near or above average in that region.

Looking only at global land temperatures, 2011 was the 8th warmest year on record. It was the warmest year for Spain and Norway, and second warmest for the U.K. Continuing recent trends, the Arctic region was once again much warmer than average.

In a press release, NOAA said all years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the 13th warmest on record, and only one year during the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than 2011. 

2011 continued the 35-year streak of warmer than normal temperatures. The dots on this map show areas where it was warmer (red) or cooler (blue) than average. Credit: NOAA.

Last year was the second wettest year on record globally, just under the wettest year, which took place in 2010. Major droughts occurred in East Africa, where a food crisis resulted in thousands of deaths. Drought also gripped the Southern Plains states and the Southwest along with northern Mexico, and central and southeastern Europe.

Norway had its wettest year on record, and it was the third wettest year in Australia.

2011 was the 2nd wettest year on record for the globe. Credit: NOAA.

In the U.S. there was a huge contrast between the wet and dry states, with seven states in the Ohio Valley and Northeast setting records for their wettest years, and Texas setting a record for its driest year. Studies show that global warming is already raising the likelihood for precipitation extremes, although research has not yet tied the Texas drought or Ohio Valley/Northeast flooding to global warming. (For more information on the U.S. climate in 2011, see our news story from Thursday.)

2011 was the warmest La Niña year on record, as illustrated by this NOAA chart of temperatures during El Niño (red) and La Niña (blue) years.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center released a list of top 10 weather and climate events of 2011. Globally, they ranked the East African drought as the top event, followed by the Thailand floods. The African drought affected up to 11 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Djibouti. In Thailand, flooding inundated one-third of the country, causing severe damage to parts of Bangkok.

A NASA analysis released yesterday found that although global warming has slowed somewhat during the past couple of years, likely related to a “double dip” La Niña, a new all-time record warm year is likely to occur in the near future. “We conclude that the slowdown of global warming is likely to prove illusory, with more rapid warming appearing over the next few years,” the analysis states. The NASA scientists note that nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurred during the 21st century.