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State of the Climate

State of the Climate 27 July 2021

State of the climate: 2021 sees widespread climate extremes despite a cool start (via Carbon Brief)

By Zeke Hausfather

While the early months of 2021 have been cooler than much of the past decade, global temperatures have risen in recent months as the effects of La Niña have started to fade. 

This year is now on track to end up somewhere between the fifth and seventh warmest year for the Earth’s surface since records began in the mid–1800s.

The past two months have seen record–breaking heatwaves in the western US and Canada that are fuelling devastating wildfires, as well as flooding events in Europe, India and China driven by extreme rainfall. 

A recent attribution analysis found that the deadly heat experienced in the Pacific north–west would have been “virtually impossible” in the absence of climate change. While attribution studies on the extreme rainfall events have yet to be completed, climate models have long predicted strong increases in extreme rainfall events associated with climate change.

Arctic sea ice has also been at record low levels for most of the month of July. While it is too early to know for sure where the summer minimum will end up, 2021 will likely see one of the lower Arctic sea ice extents on record.

Exceptional summer heat and flooding

Global average temperatures have been cooler so far this year than in much of the past decade. However, these global averages can mask a lot of regional extremes that can have large impacts on people. 

A number of regions – including the north–western US and western Canada – have seen all–time high temperature records broken in 2021. The figure below shows areas where a new maximum surface temperature records (in red) have been set in 2021 as of mid–July in the Copernicus/ECMWF ERA5 reanalysis dataset. (This is a surface temperature estimate based on a combination of measurements and a weather model.)

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