Anyone interested in climate change will have noticed the numerous headlines proclaiming March 2015 to be the warmest month ever and the first three months of 2015 to have broken the record for the warmest start to any year on record.
This year has undoubtedly started off warm, but the claim that it is unprecedented and an obvious example of global warming can only be justified by ignoring contradictory evidence, as many journalists and scientists did.
The origin of the story was information released by NOAA saying that March and the first quarter of 2015 were the warmest on record. This is indeed what their database shows, though neither the land nor the ocean individually set any records. The record amounted to 0.05°C above previous values although the error +/- 0.08°C was not mentioned in the initial claims about the record.
Looking at the other temperature databases it is clear that 2015 is warm so far. Nasa Giss, however, does not place March as the warmest month. It places it third warmest, although February was the warmest February in its records. Giss does place the first quarter of 2015 as its warmest. This is due to the warm March as indicated by December-January-February not being the warmest such period on record.
Some commentators are already suggesting that 2015 could be a record-breaking year – presumably a thousandth of a degree would be significant to them as was the case for 2014’s “record”.
In Giss this would mean that the remaining nine months would have to average a temperature anomaly of 63 (warmer than 1988, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008,2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013). 2002 had a warm start similar to this year but after the first three months did not have a single month with an anomaly of 63 or higher. Last year did manage an average of 66 or more in its last nine months, so if 2015 continues like 2014 then a record is possible – by a few thousandths of a degree with error of a tenth of a degree.
Commentators should also have taken a look at the Met Office HadCrut4 dataset. The fact that nobody did was due to a habit of not questioning NOAA’s statement or ignoring inconvenient data.
HadCrut4 shows Jan – Feb 2015 to be warm but will probably not turn out to be as warm as Jan – March 2002 when data becomes available. Indeed 2002 shows a similar pattern as 2015 in December of the previous year being warm as well.
“Records Just Got Crushed”
The reason for the slightly elevated global temperature is an El Nino event as well as a persistent “blob” of warm water in the North East of the Pacific that has been there for over a year. The warmth is not the result of an overall elevation of global temperatures but short-term natural events, i.e. internal climate variability, as it is often called.
Not a single media outlet that covered this story raised any of the points outlined above, and neither did any of the commentators they called upon to pass judgment. Quartz said the data from “all three” agencies said it was a record year so far; one expert said we are seeing variations against a “baseline of slowly warming temperature almost everywhere.” He is obviously ignoring the 18-year “pause” in global surface temperatures. Bloomberg said, “Global Temperature Records Just Got Crushed Again.”
Michael Mann was interviewed and essentially said … trust me, I am a scientist, it is all going exactly as predicted.
Exactly perhaps, but only if you dismiss the warming “pause”, which is exactly what he does – and in so doing is out of step with the broader scientific community.