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2022 Wasn’t The Hottest On Record. That’s Nothing To Celebrate

NASA and NOAA, two leading atmospheric science research agencies in the United States, have some ostensibly good climate news: Their twin annual analyses of global temperatures revealed today that 2022, like 2021, wasn’t an all-time record-breaker. Instead, NASA says it tied with 2015 as the fifth-warmest year on record, and NOAA says it was the sixth. (The agencies use slightly different methodologies, and the difference between fifth and sixth place is just a hundredth of a degree Celsius.) Still, humanity remains on a dangerous trajectory because the past nine years have been the nine hottest since measurements began.

“The heat waves this summer in Europe, the rainfall in Pakistan, the floods here and there and everywhere—they’ve been juiced by the overall global warming,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and lead scientist of the agency’s analysis. “It doesn’t need to be the warmest year on record for these things to happen.”

As with the year before, last year’s slightly lowered temperatures were due to La Niña—not some miraculous reversal of global warming. La Niña is essentially a massive oceanic air conditioner. It forms when winds strengthen and shove a band of Pacific Ocean water toward Asia. Something has to replace the water on the move, so colder waters upwell from the depths. This water absorbs heat from the atmosphere, bringing down air temperatures and influencing weather patterns.

But La Niña’s slight, temporary cooling effects are not enough to counter the overall rise in global temperatures. “The long-term trends in temperature are real, are serious, and they’re not going away anytime soon,” says Schmidt. “The long-term trends are distinct from the everyday slings and arrows of outrageous weather.”

Courtesy of NOAA

That overall temperature rise made weather more outrageous than ever in some parts of the world in 2022. The above map from NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a nice visualization of where temperatures were particularly hot and where records were set.