STATEWIDE2021 hits the record books again, ranking as the sixth warmest year on record according to the annual climate analysis by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA.

Comparison of global surface temperature anomalies. Higher than normal temperatures are shown in red and lower than normal temperatures are shown in blue.

2021 ties with 2018 as the sixth warmest year. Experts say this follows a startling trend, with the last eight years in a row the hottest on record, dating back to 1880.

Earth’s average land and ocean surface temperature in 2021 was 1.51 degrees F (0.84 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average. This makes it the 45th consecutive year with global temperatures rising above that average. 

Courtesy of NOAA.

“These are the things that we predicted would happen decades ago, and now they are happening. And we’re just anticipating that they’re going to happen more and more rapidly, if we don’t change the trajectory that the planet is on,” said Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

With the small change in global temperatures comes big changes on a local scale. From hurricane-force winds causing fires in Colorado, to record heat waves in the Pacific Northwest, to rain falling on Greenland’s ice sheet for the first time ever.

Experts say the connection between climate change and more intense weather events can’t be ignored.

“And that’s enough to be having an effect on daily weather. And so the changes that we’ve seen are now large enough that we can detect them where we are,” said Dr. Gavin Schmidt. “We don’t need to just be looking at these big global measures to see the changes.” 

Damage from climate and weather disasters in 2021 totaled $145 billion according to data from NOAAs National Centers for Environmental Information. That makes it the third most costly year on record. At least 600 people died in the U.S. as a result of natural disasters, the highest casualties seen in a decade.

While data shows earth’s climate naturally fluctuates over extended periods of time, experts say changes we’re seeing come from human activity. Greenhouses gases are released during things like oil and gas operations, industrial processes and deforestation.

Ocean heat content was also the highest ever recorded in 2021. Ocean heat content is the total amount of warmth, or energy, stored in the ocean. Warmer oceans contribute to more intense hurricanes and high ocean-heat content can contribute to sea-level rise.

A world map plotted with color blocks depicting percentiles of global average land and ocean temperatures for the full year 2021. Color blocks depict increasing warmth, from dark blue (record-coldest area) to dark red (record-warmest area) and spanning areas in between that were “much cooler than average” through “much warmer than average.” (NOAA NCEI)

Ocean heat content surpassed the previous record high set in 2020. The seven highest OHCs have occurred in the last seven years (2015-2021).

NOAA findings also highlight the Arctic warming three times faster than the global average over the last 30 years. The last seven years (2015-2021) had an annual sea ice extent that ranked among the 10 smallest on record.

You can find NOAA-NCEI’s 2021 global climate report here.