How Unusual Temperatures Have Been Every Year Since 1950

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The introduction of a polar vortex this week across the Northeast will introduce frigid temperatures that could challenge records. Accompanied by high winds, windchill could drive the temperature people feel to between 30 and 50 below zero in parts of northern New York state and New England. 

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that Earth’s temperature has risen by an average of 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit every decade since 1880, when humans began accelerating industrial activities. Since 1981, however, that rate has more than doubled to an increase of 0.32 F in average temperatures every decade. (Earth’s CO2 level rose every year since climate change became a national issue.)

The 20th century average of the combined global land and ocean temperatures was 57 F, nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than pre-industrial levels.

These incremental rises in temperature may not seem like much if you judge it by the air temperature outside today, but they have profound effects on ecological systems and the climate, causing more frequent and powerful weather events.

The warming of air and water temperatures due to human activity in turn leads to natural carbon emissions from the Arctic sea-floor and melting permafrost, putting the accelerator pedal down on global warming. Climate experts warn we can expect more floods, droughts, and wildfires, which have already become common in the modern news cycle.

To identify the temperature the year you were born, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the combined land surface air and sea surface water temperature for 1950 through 2021 from NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index. We also added the anomaly – the temperature compared to a base period. NASA used 57 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the average global temperature from 1951-1980, as the base. The hottest month each year also came from the report. 

From 1950 to 2021, the global average of combined land-sea temperatures has been below 57 degrees Fahrenheit — the base period temperature average — in only 15 years. The last time was in 1976. This means anyone under the age of 45 has lived their entire lives in a warmer world with increasingly damaging climate effects. 

Furthermore, anyone born since 2018 has lived with a global land-air temperature average of 58.5 F or higher. People born into the coming years will almost surely live with this average temperature above 59 F.

The anomalies compared to the base period have increased as well. While in 1976 the average temperature was 0.18 degrees below the base period average temperature of 57 F, by 2021 the average temperature was 1.51 F above it. In 2020, temperature was 1.84 degrees above the 1951-1980 global average. (Here are the worst states driving the climate crisis.)

Here is how abnormal the world’s temperature was every year since 1950.