Was 1934 the Warmest Year on Record . . . Again?

According to the data I have looked at, the warmest years in the modern world have from been from 1998 on. So, I was startled when, at a talk, I heard that 1934 was the warmest year. Of course I googled this when I got home and found a number of articles, like this one headlined “NASA Admits that 1934, not 1998, was the Warmest Year on Record.” The first sentence states that, “. . . NASA stated today that it was wrong when it release [sic] a report that 1998 was the warmest year ever recorded in modern history.” According to the story, that honor goes to 1934.  And, indeed, there was a bit of a minor spasm in the blogosphere in 2007 about this error. So, were we wrong then and are we still wrong?

Well, it turns out that it depends on whether you’re looking at global or US data.  It is not true that any of the world’s 10 “warmest years on record” were in the earlier part of the twentieth century. In fact, world data shows a clear warming trend over the past 100 years; however, for the US the warming trend is most clearly evident since 1980, in spite of some warm years in the early part of the past century.

The data NASA corrected were data for the US and Steve McIntyre was forthright in reporting this (shown in right column). In any case, the corrections were small and were, according to a Real Climate article, 1934 and all that, statistically insignificant.

Other reporters were not so careful to frame the context. For example, Jim Angle, on Fox News failed to inform viewers that the data were only for the US. And the disreputable Glenn Beck first said the “the globe was the hottest . . . in 1934.” Later he said that “America’s temperature peaked in 1934” but he did not correct his earlier statement, which must have led viewers to think they were the same.

In addition, NASA’s US data have been both added to and revised (the left column in the table) since McIntyre’s piece and  now show that six of the hottest years are 1998 and later. (Plus, 1990 appears in both top 10 lists.)

NASA GISS Surface Temperature Anomalies

Global Land-Ocean Temperatures, http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/Fig.A2.gif

So, let’s look at the world data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), shown at right. The world has clearly been warming over much of the past century and more or less continually since 1980. Moreover, every other historical study closely tracks this one. Regardless of what is happening in the US, the globe is clearly warming.

So, yes, there were some warm years in the early twentieth century in the US. So what? The US represents about two percent of the global surface. In fact, it is the global picture that must stay center stage, but climatologists do not doubt that regional anomalies exist. This, then, was drama without content.

Once again, we have an effort to confuse people. In fact, the first article I cited, which appeared on the Yahoo website, was actually a PR piece (no longer available) from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). NCPA describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization, established in 1983. Our goal is to develop and promote private, free-market alternatives to government regulation and control.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you search its site for “global warming,” the first sub-topic that comes up is “global warming myths” and most of the other entries are of that ilk. In fact, the site is replete with denial of climate science in general and global warning in particular. In this specific case, someone on the staff, Brant McLaughlin, wrote a PR piece that was picked up by and published on Yahoo. The clear purpose in creating a big deal about this minor adjustment in US temperatures was to cast doubt on the larger truth, i.e., that the earth is getting warmer.

And, based on the comment at the talk I attended, the doubt stuck. Moreover, the point of the doubt is to paralyze efforts and stymy public policy to deal with global warming. That is what we have to deal with.

(Updated 7/26/2012)


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One Response to Was 1934 the Warmest Year on Record . . . Again?

  1. A wonderful post by Jim Hansen on the issues of dealing with incoming data and touching on the blogosphere’s mini spasm in 2007 was brought to my attention. http://novascience.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/the-temperature-of-science-discussion-of-global-temperature-change-and-more-by-james-hansen/.