2016 was the second-warmest year on record in the U.S.



A map depicting average temperatures across the U.S. with orange representing “above average” and red representing “record high.” 2016 was the second warmest year on record in the U.S.

by Katherine Zhang, Asst. STEM Editor

2016 was the second warmest year on record for the U.S. and was accompanied by a marked increase in the number of extreme weather disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

The average temperature last year was 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit, the second-highest average temperature in 122 years of record-keeping. This is also the 20th consecutive year that the nation’s average temperature has been higher than the average from the 20th century.

Over the past year, the U.S. has also had to face above-average precipitation and fifteen separate weather disasters, including storms, floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires.

El Niño, a climate cycle that involves the development of a band of warm ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean, may have contributed to rising temperatures and extreme weather.

“Last year […] was a significant El Niño year, and that leads to fluctuations in global temperatures,” biology teacher and Green Team advisor Kate Schafer said. “It wouldn’t be a shock if 2017, which is a La Niña year, where ocean temperatures are abnormally cool, wasn’t the warmest year on record. However, that doesn’t mean that global warming isn’t happening.”

Leading contributors to rising average temperatures also include the presence of greenhouse gases, which are often produced by human actions such as raising meat for food and using transportation involving fossil fuels.

“The biggest [contributor] that most people don’t realize is meat production,” Green Team secretary Anika Banga (11) said. “Cattle especially releases the greenhouse gas methane instead of carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for much longer.”

Though the effects of climate change cannot be reversed, reducing one’s carbon footprint through actions such as using renewable energy and opting for electric or solar-powered cars can help mitigate future effects of climate change.

“I feel like [climate change] is just something we’ll have to mitigate, not solve,” said AP Environmental Science teacher and Green Team advisor Jeff Sutton. “Hopefully, renewable energy production is becoming more widespread. A lot of cities in the Bay Area are choosing to use renewable energy, which is amazing.”

Though global data on average temperatures will not be released until Jan. 18, preliminary data released in July by agencies such as NASA show that 2016 is projected to be the warmest year on record globally.