CORVALLIS, Ore. – The year 2014 was the hottest on Earth in 134 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on Friday, continuing a pattern of global warming that is attributed primarily to rising levels of greenhouse gases.
Oregon was not exempt from the warming and logged the second hottest year since records were kept beginning in 1895, according to researchers with the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University.
“We had a warm summer, and now a warm winter and that’s where we got our warm year,” said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the center. “We are looking at our future right now – warm winters and low snowpacks.”
The average statewide temperature in Oregon in 2014 was 49.5 degrees, which is 3.0 degrees above the average for the 20th century. The only hotter year on record was 1934 – when the United States suffered through the Dust Bowl. The average temperature in Oregon that year was 49.9.
Low snowpacks are of particular concern later in the year when less water is available, Dello pointed out.
“Drought continues to be a concern in southern and eastern Oregon, as well as in California,” she said. “The temperature outlook for the next three months is pointing toward continued warm temperatures for the western United States.”
According to NOAA, the average 2014 temperature across both land and ocean surfaces globally was 1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average. This was the highest among all years on record dating back to 1880, the agency noted.
Regions that were considered the warmest last year, according to NOAA, included eastern Russia, the western United States, portions of Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, segments of the equatorial Pacific, large swaths of the Atlantic Ocean, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.
Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, said the subtlety of rising temperatures on a global scale can be hard to comprehend, since people tend to view climate based on their personal experiences.
“Most of us relate to climate through what we remember and the week-long spell of near-record cold, snow and ice last February may seem more pertinent or convincing than global mean temperature,” Mote said. “But from a physics perspective, global mean temperature represents lots of interesting processes – rising greenhouse gases among them.
“Setting a record like this means those processes lined up this year,” Mote added. “On average, greenhouse gas increases make each year roughly .04 degrees warmer than the last – which may not sound like much, but really adds up over time.”
At that rate, the temperature would increase one degree every 25 years, and four degrees each century – an alarming rate of increase, scientists say. “And unless emissions of greenhouse gases are curbed,” Mote said, “the warming is likely to be faster than that in the future.”
Although globally the planet experienced its hottest year, it was only the 34th warmest year on record for the United States overall, Dello said. The western U.S. as a whole had its hottest year on record, as did the states of California, Nevada and Arizona, but the eastern part of the country experienced a severe winter.
Dello and Mote are both in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.