Scientists say August 2019 was a scorcher, predict more record-breaking heat ahead
After a month of historically high temperatures around the world in August, national climate officials anticipate more of the same through the rest of 2019.
It will be yet another year for the record books, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said in a news conference Thursday.
“It is virtually certain that 2019 will end up among the five warmest years on record,” said Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, a climatologist with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. For the first eight months of the year, the difference between the global land and ocean average temperature and the 20th century average was the third highest on record, behind 2016 and 2017.
Those global land and ocean surface temperatures combined made for the second hottest August since NOAA began keeping track in 1880, said Sanchez-Lugo. The temperature was 1.66 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, tying 2015 and 2017. Only August 2016 was hotter.
In the United States, it was the second warmest summer on record in Alaska, 4.1 degrees above average, NOAA said Thursday. Only the summer of 2004 saw a higher departure from Alaska’s long-term average temperatures.
Across the lower 48 states it was the 13th warmest August on record, tied with 1955. But Arizona, New Mexico and Texas all had their second warmest August on record.
For the three-month summer period — June, July and August — Delaware, New Jersey and Florida each had their fifth hottest summers on record.
The agency’s three-month outlook for the next three months calls for above normal temperatures across the entire lower 48 states and Alaska.
Hotter and wetter
Nine of the 10 highest average land and ocean surface temperatures for August have occurred since 2009, NOAA records show, and the five highest have occurred since 2014.
When considered alone, the global ocean temperature average was the hottest ever in August, topping a previous record set in August 2016.
“The oceans are substantially warmer than they have been in the past,” said Greg Johnson, a NOAA oceanographer. “They’re absorbing a massive amount of heat.”
Even as Tropical Depression Imelda continues to soak parts of Texas and Louisiana, NOAA reports the contiguous United States saw its wettest January to August on record this year, with 24.6 inches of precipitation, 3.9 inches above the long-term average.
Over the last 12 months, precipitation was 7.6 inches above average, topping the previous record — set in 1972-73 — by more than three inches.
Also on Thursday, NOAA addressed the growing concern about a vast area of the northeastern Pacific Ocean experiencing much warmer than normal temperatures.
It’s too soon to say for sure whether it’s definitely the marine heat wave commonly called “the blob,” Johnson said.
The previous blob, a marine heat wave in 2013 and 2014, resulted in reduced fishing catches, a harmful algal bloom along the entire west coast of North America, a seabird die off and an increase in marine mammal strandings.