By Jeremy Cox, BayJournal.com
If it has seemed warmer than usual lately in the mid-Atlantic, you aren’t wrong.
In the 141 years of global climate records, January was the planet’s hottest ever – more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average temperature for the month, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What was particularly surprising about the record, climatologists say, was that it came without the heat-producing power of an El Niño weather pattern.
January was also unusually warm in the six Chesapeake Bay watershed states, although no new heat records were set. It comes after a sweltering 2019 that was the second hottest ever for Virginia, third hottest in Delaware and West Virginia and fourth hottest in Maryland.
Snowfall has been a rare sight this winter. Through the end of January, the season had produced barely a half-inch of snowfall at Reagan National Airport just outside the District of Columbia. Harrisburg had seen about 5 inches, which is about 9 inches below usual for that time of year.
The world’s unusually warm January has put 2020 on course to become one of the hottest years on record, if not the hottest. NOAA estimates a roughly 50% chance of that occurring and a 99% chance of it ranking among the top five warmest.
“We completed the first lap in a 12-lap race, and we are in the lead after the first lap,” said Karin Gleason, an NOAA climatologist.
The 10 warmest years on record have all come since 1998 with nine of those 10 taking place since 2005, according to NOAA.
The warming trend is widely attributed to greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere. The resulting change in climate has had far-reaching consequences in the Chesapeake region, from the earlier bloom of cherry trees in Washington, DC, to the decline of native trout in streams that feed into the Bay.
If those emissions remain unchecked, scientists warn that in the coming decades the region will experience stronger, more frequent storms; sea rise will be measured in feet, imperiling coastal communities and wildlife habitat.