2018 was fourth-warmest year on record

Earth’s fever shows no signs of stopping.

The global temperature in 2018 was the fourth-hottest on record, scientists announced Wednesday. Only 2016 (warmest), 2015 (2nd-warmest) and 2017 (3rd-warmest) were hotter than 2018.

Overall, the past five years have been the five warmest years since records began in the late 1800s, according to a report released Wednesday.

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” according to NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, the director of the agency’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.

Specifically, NASA said global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average from 1951 to 1980. 

Here in the U.S., unusual warmth in the West in 2018 contributed to a disastrous wildfire season that killed dozens of people. In monetary cost, the nation endured its costliest wildfire season on record: a whopping $24 billion in damages. 

Hurricanes Michael ($25 billion) and Florence ($24 billion) were the other two big weather disasters in 2018.

The cost in human life was tragic: Almost 250 Americans were killed in the disasters in 2018. The total cost of the disasters to the nation was $91 billion. 

The global warming trend is strongest in the Arctic, NASA said, where 2018 saw the continued loss of sea ice. In addition, mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continued to contribute to sea-level rise.

More: Global warming predicted to melt massive Himalayan glaciers, disrupt food production

More: Here are the facts: Despite winter storms, global warming is real

Increasing temperatures can also contribute to longer fire seasons and some extreme weather events, according to Schmidt. “The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt – in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” he said.

The planet has now experienced 42 straight years (since 1977) with an above-average global temperature.

What’s noteworthy about the recent warming is how closely it parallels the increasing amount of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that are being released into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. 

“This is yet another reminder that our future will not resemble our past,” said Shaun Martin of the World Wildlife Fund. “Even if we dramatically curb emissions in the coming years, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. We’ve already locked in certain levels of warming which will continue to harm millions of people and nature in the US and worldwide.”

Another expert, Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that “18 of the 19 warmest years since record keeping began have occurred since 2001. That means kids graduating from high school have only known a world of record-breaking temperatures. With global emissions rising for the second year in a row, this disastrous trend shows no signs of changing any time soon.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which prepared the report along with NASA, also said the U.S. endured 14 separate weather disasters that each caused at least $1 billion in damage. Eight of those disasters were from tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.

Between 1980 and 2013, the U.S. averaged about 6 separate big weather disasters a year, NOAA said. Over the most recent five years, that number has jumped to more than 12. 

In the U.S., last year’s weather story was more about rain and snow than heat. Precipitation for the contiguous U.S. averaged 34.63 inches, which was 4.69 inches above average. This made it the USA’s 3rd-wettest year on record and the wettest since 1983.

Nine states – Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts –slogged through their wettest year on record.

In separate analyses of global temperatures, scientists from the United Kingdom Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization also reached the same ranking (4th-warmest) as did NASA and NOAA.

This annual climate report was prepared by climate scientists from NASA and NOAA. It’s usually released in mid-January, but was postponed until February because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

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