In an episode of “Weathered,” hosted by weather expert Maiya May, climate scientists from NOAA and a resident of the fastest-warming county in the U.S. unraveled the complexities of why the U.S. is warming faster than the global average and explored the implications for communities on the front lines of climate change. Here’s the full story.

Warming at an Alarming Rate

May addressed a viral phenomenon – the seeming contradiction between NOAA’s data release, indicating a decrease in global temperature over the past eight years, and the undeniable fact that the U.S. is warming at an alarming rate. The global land and ocean temperature for 2022 stood at 1.90 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial conditions. However, the focus shifted to the U.S., which has warmed 68% faster than the global average in the last 50 years.

An important revelation was that this statistic doesn’t even include Alaska, which has experienced even more accelerated warming. The annual temperature increase across the lower 48 has risen at an average rate of about 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895, escalating to 0.44 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980.

Paradoxical Drop in Average Temperatures

To understand the seemingly paradoxical drop in average temperatures over the past eight years, the video drew parallels with the inherent variability in nature, mirroring the fluctuating seasons.

May highlighted that climate change doesn’t follow a linear trajectory, sharing the importance of recognizing year-to-year variability. The analysis of specific years, like 2016 (1.19 degrees above pre-industrial levels) and 2022 (1.07 degrees above pre-industrial levels), is contextualized within the broader goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature rise between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.

Latitude and the Influence of Oceans

The video shared that the global landscape of warming and cooling is characterized by latitude and the influence of oceans. High altitudes in the far north, particularly influenced by sea ice dynamics, experience accelerated warming. As sea ice melts, exposing dark water, more solar radiation is absorbed, intensifying the warming cycle. While this Arctic amplification is expected to slow down eventually, for now, northern regions are on the frontline of rapid warming.

May shared that the second factor, the impact of oceans, plays a pivotal role. Water reflects more solar energy than land and has a higher heat capacity. Large land masses, predominantly in the northern hemisphere where most human populations reside, are warming faster than oceans. Notable examples of unusual hotspots, such as off the coast of Uruguay and Argentina, are driven by shifting ocean currents bringing warmer waters to unexpected locations.

Some Countries Are Warming Slowly

May added that conversely, some areas are experiencing slower warming due to unique circumstances. Antarctica has slowed warming due to the ozone hole, and India is warming less than its surroundings due to severe pollution blocking solar radiation. The Arctic’s cool spot is attributed to Greenland’s melting ice.

May then turned her focus to the U.S., where the University of Massachusetts predicts reaching two degrees of warming 10 to 20 years before the global average. The western U.S. is getting drier, and precipitation plays a significant role in regional warming. Areas experiencing entrenched drought, like parts of the interior Rockies, Oregon, California, Minnesota, and Montana, are warming faster. The Northeast is also surpassing the U.S. average warming rate.

The Impact of Global Warming

The discussion on future projections introduces the likelihood of 2023 ranking among the 10 warmest years on record, with 2014 to 2023 constituting the hottest decade, May shared.

The impact on regions already warming fast, like the North Slope Borough in Alaska, is highlighted through an interview with Eben Hopson, a 23-year-old subsistence hunter and fisherman. His observations highlighted the tangible consequences of a changing climate, affecting traditional practices like whaling and introducing new challenges, such as the shifting timing of essential markers like the arrival of snow buntings.

El Niño and La Niña

The role of El Niño and La Niña in yearly temperature variability was also explored by May.

In an El Niño year, warmer waters in the Eastern equatorial Pacific contribute to warming trends, while La Niña, characterized by cooler waters, has a cooling effect. May shared that the last three years have seen a consistent La Niña, leveling off temperatures while maintaining a position in the top 10 warmest years.

May concluded, “Our weather is changing from longer hotter heat waves to more intense rainstorms to mega-fires and multi-year droughts. The U.S. is experiencing the full range of impacts from climate change.”

So what do you think? How can the average American contribute to more effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies on a global scale?