‘Warmest Year’ Claims Rapidly Wilt Under Scrutiny

Published February 18, 2015

No sooner had 2015 arrived than newspaper headlines and television anchors trumpeted the news international science agencies, including the Japan Meteorological Agency, the World Meteorological Organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, had concluded 2014 was the warmest year on record.

But almost before the initial flurry of interviews on the topic was over, the headlines changed and the claim of record-setting high temperatures in 2014 was watered down by a variety of caveats.

Maybe, Maybe Not

Upon examination, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies’ (GISS) analysis, using readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide, showed the increase was just two hundredths of a degree over the previous record, with the margin of error being several times greater than the amount of warming.

As a result, GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt backtracked, saying there was only a 38 percent chance 2014 was the warmest year on record.

Additionally, a report issued by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, using data from more than 30,000 temperature stations, concluded if 2014 was a record year, it was by less than 0.01C, also less than the margin of error. On that basis, BEST argued it was impossible to conclude 2014 set a temperature record.

In addition, two sets of global satellite system data, the Remote Sensing Satellite (RSS) and the University of Alabama and Huntsville (UAH) satellite, record 2014 as having been only slightly above average in temperature. The UAH data found 2014 was just the third-warmest year since 1979.

Very Short Record

University of Oklahoma geophysicist David Deming stated, “The “warmest year on record” is an artifact of when the “record” began.”

“Over the last thousand years, there have been at least two periods of natural climate change lasting hundreds of years: the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. If our record-keeping had begun near the beginning of either of these periods of natural change, we would have recorded multiple instances of either the ‘warmest’ or the ‘coldest’ year on record for hundreds of years,” Deming said.

Moreover, Deming notes, “That does not mean the warming or cooling trend will continue indefinitely or reach temperatures in any way inimical for either human beings or the natural environment.”

University of Delaware climatologist David Legates notes the rush to make claims of a “record-setting year” requires the use of incomplete data.

“These ‘warmest year on record’ proclamations always come out in January. One would think all the data have been processed, but they haven’t,” Legates said. “When the preponderance of the data arrive much later from underdeveloped and developing nations, they are from rural areas, and the revised estimate of global air temperature decreases.

“Of course, there is no new press release to this effect, but the revised value now sets the stage for the following year to become the new ‘warmest year on record,'” he added.