Many Factors Made 2014 Hottest Year in California

By Scauzillo, Steve | Pasadena Star-News, February 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Many Factors Made 2014 Hottest Year in California


Scauzillo, Steve, Pasadena Star-News


Many blame man-made global warming.

Others say it's more about the natural cyclical ocean currents, sea temperatures and wind patterns.

Some wag the finger at urbanized humanity - too many people, cars and concrete heating up inside nonporous asphalt jungles.

Actually, the reasons for 2014 being Earth's warmest year since 1880 when record-keeping began are all of the above, according to scientists and researchers.

Explaining warmer temperatures can be complex. Unfortunately, the media don't like to report yes-but answers. So most articles written about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announcement of the warmest year on the planet talk about global warming as the prime reason for a 1.24 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperatures above the 20th century average. But after interviews with scientists, urban policy experts and a review of reports, what made 2014 the warmest year on Earth, as well as in the western United States, was a mix of powerful forces that pushed the mercury up especially inside the heat lamps known as cities.

Not just global warming

What made it the hottest year for California, Arizona, Nevada and Alaska must be more immediate than the slow creep of global warming, which raised Earth's temperature 0.12 degrees Fahrenheit since 2000 and about 1.2 degrees in the past 100 years.

In comparison, California's average temperature jumped 1.5 degrees from its previous hottest year and shot up a full 2 degrees from 2013 in one year. That can't all be from global warming, said NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, who has studied long-term weather trends at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge for more than four decades.

"When you have a wild swing like we see in California, there is some natural variability," Patzert said.

To find variability in weather, look no further than the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific and Indian ocean temperatures warmed considerably in 2014, NOAA reported.

Warmer Pacific Ocean waters created a warmer air blanket that can stretch 10 miles inland and, taken together, are a big reason why Long Beach reported the warmest year on record going back to 1958, said Joe Sirard, meteorologist with the Los Angeles/Oxnard branch of the National Weather Service.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation - movements in ocean currents and temperatures - can stay stuck for decades. Patzert believes the recent oscillation phase has brought drought to California since 2000. It also created what meteorologists call the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, a stubborn high pressure system off the coast that alters the jet stream and sweeps wet Pacific storms into Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, which eventually become the blizzards of the Midwest and Northeast.

These regional effects would explain the bifurcation of hotter and colder in the United States in 2014. Many who deny man-made global climate change say how can the Earth be getting warmer when we've spent the past two winters in the midst of a freezing, snow- filled polar vortex?

As evidence, 2014 was not the warmest year in the United States; the colder East and Midwest balanced out the hotter West and Southwest, scientists say.

Yet all 10 of the hottest years on the planet have occurred since 1998. And the warming trend will continue, according to the United Nations and the Japan Meteorological Agency, two additional agencies reporting on the trend.

These variable, meteorological forces (which include El Nino/La Nina trends and warmer ocean waters) affect weather in a shorter time frame, Patzert said. That doesn't mean global warming isn't a factor. It is more like a software program always running in the background.

"Man-made global warming is definitely real, and it is unstoppable. But it is slow," Patzert explained. "In the next century, it will dominate everything. …

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