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WMO Annual Climate Statement Confirms 2012 as Among Top Ten Warmest Years

Posted on 3 May 2013 by John Hartz

This article is a reprint of a press release posted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on May 2, 2013.

The World Meteorological Organization’s Statement on the Status of the Global Climate says that 2012 joined the ten previous years as one of the warmest — at ninth place — on record despite the cooling influence of a La Niña episode early in the year.

Graphic of Jan-Dec Global Land  & Ocean Temp Anomalies

The 2012 global land and ocean surface temperature during January–December 2012 is estimated to be 0.45°C (±0.11°C) above the 1961–1990 average of 14.0°C. This is the ninth warmest year since records began in 1850 and the 27th consecutive year that the global land and ocean temperatures were above the 1961–1990 average, according to the statement. The years 2001–2012 were all among the top 13 warmest years on record.

“Although the rate of warming varies from year to year due to natural variability caused by the El Niño cycle, volcanic eruptions and other phenomena, the sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The continued upward trend in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and the consequent increased radiative forcing of the Earth’s atmosphere confirm that the warming will continue,” he said.

“The record loss of Arctic sea ice in August-September — 18% less than the previous record low of 2007 of 4.17 million km2 — was also a disturbing sign of climate change,” said Mr Jarraud. “The year 2012 saw many other extremes as well, such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change,” he said.

“For example, because global sea levels are now about 20 cm higher than they were in 1880, storms such as Hurricane Sandy are bringing more coastal flooding than they would have otherwise,” said Mr Jarraud.

WMO’s annual statements gather the key climate events of each year. The series stands today as an internationally rec­ognized authoritative source of information about temperatures, precipitation, extreme events, tropical cyclones, and sea ice extent. The newly released statement provided in-depth analysis of regional trends as part of a WMO drive to provide more information at regional and national levels to support adaptation to climate variability and change.

The 2012 climate assessment, the most detailed to date, will inform discussion at WMO’s Executive Council meeting (15-23 May 2013).

Above-average temperatures were observed during 2012 across most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America, southern Europe, western Russia, parts of northern Africa and southern South America. Nonetheless, cooler-than-average conditions were observed across Alaska, parts of northern and eastern Australia, and central Asia.

Precipitation across the globe was slightly above the 1961-1990 long-term average.  There were drier-than-average conditions across much of the central United States, northern Mexico, northeastern Brazil, central Russia, and south-central Australia. Wetter-than-average conditions were present across northern Europe, western Africa, north-central Argentina, western Alaska, and most of northern China.

Snow cover extent in North America during the 2011/2012 winter was below average, resulting in the fourth smallest winter snow cover extent on record, according to data from the Global Snow Laboratory. This was in marked contrast to the previous two winters (2009/2010 and 2010/2011), which had the largest and third largest snow cover extent, respectively, since records began in 1966.

Meanwhile, the Eurasian continent snow cover extent during the winter was above average, resulting in the fourth largest snow cover extent on record. Overall, the northern hemisphere snow cover extent was above average – 590000 km2 above the average of 45.2 million km2 – and was the fourteenth largest snow cover extent on record.

Greenland ice sheet: In early July, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted dramatically, with an estimated 97 per cent of the ice sheet surface having thawed in mid-July. This was the largest melt extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. During the summer it is typical to observe nearly half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melt naturally, particularly across the lower elevations. However, in 2012 a high-pressure system brought warmer-than-average conditions to Greenland, which are associated with the rapid melting.

Arctic sea ice extent reached its record lowest level in its annual cycle on 16 September at 3.41 million km2. This value broke the previous record low set on 18 September 2007 by 18 per cent. It was 49 per cent or nearly 3.3 million km2 below the 1979–2000 average minimum. The difference between the maximum Arctic sea-ice extent on 20 March and the lowest minimum extent on 16 September was 11.83 million km2 – the largest seasonal sea-ice extent loss in the 34-year satellite record.

Antarctic sea-ice extent in March was the fourth largest on record at 5.0 million km2 or 16.0 per cent above the 1979–2000 average. During its growth season, the Antarctic sea-ice extent reached its maximum extent since records began in 1979 on 26 September, at 19.4 million km2. This value surpassed the previous maximum sea-ice extent record of 19.36 million km2 set on 21 September 2006.

Extreme Events: Hurricane Sandy killed close to 100 people and caused major destruction in the Caribbean and tens of billions of US dollars in damage and around 130 deaths in the eastern United States of America. Typhoon Bopha, the deadliest tropical cyclone of the year, hit the Philippines – twice – in December. During the year, the United States and south-eastern Europe experienced extreme drought conditions, while West Africa was severely hit by extreme flooding. The populations of Europe, northern Africa and Asia were acutely affected by extreme cold and snow conditions. Severe flooding occurred in Pakistan or a third consecutive year.

Climate change is aggravating naturally occurring climate variability and has become a source of uncertainty for climate-sensitive economic sectors like agriculture and energy.

“It is vital that we continue to invest in the observations and research that will improve our knowledge about climate variability and climate change,” said Mr Jarraud.

“We need to understand how much of the extra heat captured by greenhouse gases is being stored in the oceans and the consequences this brings in terms of ocean acidification and other impacts. We need to know more about the temporary cooling effects of pollution and other aerosols emitted into the atmosphere. We also need a better understanding of the changing behaviour of extreme weather and climate events as a consequence of global warming, as well as the need to assist countries in the most affected areas to better manage climate-related risks with improved climate early warning and climate watch systems,” said Mr Jarraud.


The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), adopted by the Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress in 2012, provides the necessary global platform to inform decision-making for climate adaptation through enhanced climate information.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 6:

  1. I am not entirely (but almost) happy with the graph. It suggests 2012 was the only year that was only partly dominated by either Niña (the case) or Niño or neutral.

    The message is of course quite clear. 2011 was the warmest Niña year. And even a year of neutral EN/SO could make an absolute record now.

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  2. cRR Kampen - I wonder if you would be happier with this graph?  It classifies each year as La Nina, El Nino, or Neutral, and then shows that the global warming trend continues ever-upward for each category.  The graph effectively removes the large internal variability of the ENSO cycle that can "hide" the global warming signal if one just cherry-picks short time periods like 1998-present.

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  3. LarryM @2

    Why do we have a difference in the year categorisations between these two graphs?

    Isn't there some definitive way to determine what year is El Nino / La Nina / Neutral?

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  4. macoles - There are several ways to define El Nino/La Nina/Neutral, so no exact definition.  The WMO press release didn't specify their definition, but for the above animated graph see the associated caption and links by clicking on it, or go directly to the explanation in this article.  In summary, the average of 3 common ENSO indices was calculated for each year, and the bottom, middle, and top one-thirds were used as the 3 categories.

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  5. Thanks LarryM, that link clears it up nicely. I also hadn't realised that these ENSO indices can vary significantly month to month rather than just year to year, so the starting month makes a big difference too.

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  6. LarryM #2, perfect :)

    Of course WMO's graph depicts the same thing and it is only its 2012 bar I'm fussing about.

    The picture you provided suggests, by the way, a slight divergence in trend between La Niña- and El Niño years. Not at all statistically significant I guess, but La Niña seems to inhibit atmospheric(!) AGW some more than other EN/SO phases.

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