2022 was another year of wild, warm and unpredictable weather. As we did a year ago, here’s an annual checkup on the globe’s health, as told in six charts.
Global Temperature Trends
Source: National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
2022 was the sixth warmest year on record, with all 10 warmest years occurring since 2010. Earth’s temperature has been rising by an average of 0.14° Fahrenheit (0.08° Celsius) per decade since 1880, or about 2° F overall. The recent rate of warming has been accelerating as the atmospheric global level of carbon dioxide approaches 420 parts per million.
If emissions continue to rise rapidly, models project that the global temperature may rise at least 5° F above the 1901-1960 average, and possibly as much as 10.2° F above, by 2100. If, on the other hand, recently enacted clean-energy policies slow the rate of emissions growth over the next few years and then begin a long march toward Net Zero emissions by 2050, the projected rate of warming could be cut in half by the end of this century.
Rapid deployment of solar and wind resources will be critical to keeping this downward emissions trajectory in play.
Record Heat – and Not Too Much Cold
The contiguous U.S. had its third warmest year on record in 2022. The average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 53.4° F, 1.4° F above the 20th-century average. Ten states recorded a top-10 warmest year, including all six New England states. All 10 warmest states, except for Vermont, have borders on ocean waters that are absorbing heat much faster than land.
In the southern Plains, an early-season heat wave persisted from mid-April well into July. Another major heat wave broke out across the West at the start of September, setting nearly 1,000 daily high temperature records through Sept. 9. And in the Pacific Northwest, a historic October heat wave brought a return of summer-like temperatures across the region, with Seattle shattering its daily high temperature record by a whopping 16° F on Oct. 16. Only six states in the Upper Midwest recorded annual temperatures that were not above average in 2022.
Regional Climate Impacts
The U.S. recorded 18 billion-dollar weather-related disasters in 2022. Such catastrophic events, which used to occur about eight times a year globally as of 1980 (after adjusting for inflation), now are striking at a pace of once every three weeks!
Weather extremes ran the gamut in 2022:
- Cities up and down the Mississippi River saw major disruptions following four torrential rainfall events that caused significant flooding over the summer. Farther west, drought spread across much of the southern and central Plains and western half of the continental U.S., enveloping 63% of the country by the end of October.
- In Florida, Hurricane Ian, a powerful Category 4 storm, swept across the state on Sept. 28, before making a second landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 30. Ian’s property damage may top $100 billion, including $60 billion in insured losses. Only Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, ranks as a costlier hurricane.
- In the Great Lakes region, as cold winter air settled over warm, open waters in late November and early December, tremendous lake-effect snowstorms pummeled western New York with record amounts of snow, piling up to eight feet in some places. A major winter storm just before Christmas caused a million utility customers from Texas to Maine to lose power – including 200,000 customers in New Hampshire and Vermont – as they were slammed by a combination of drenching rains, ice, heavy snow and record winds.
Some local utilities spent their entire annual budgets for grid repairs on just this one storm, setting the stage for future rate increases. Meanwhile, back in Florida, FPL, the state’s largest utility, announced that it is seeking a 10% increase in residential electricity rates to recover $1.3 billion in repair costs for damage caused to its grid by Hurricane Ian.
California has been at the epicenter of a megadrought in the American West since 2000. As 2022 drew to a close, a series of trans-Pacific storms drenched much of the state with “atmospheric rivers” of moisture, dropping more than three feet of rain and up to 20 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains – more precipitation than some locations normally receive in a whole year! In just two weeks, all areas of “extreme” drought, the second-highest level of drought, disappeared in California, and the extent of severe drought, the-third highest level, fell from 71% to 46%. Even so, a lot more precipitation will be needed over a sustained period to get rid of this 20+ year megadrought.
Elsewhere across the U.S., drought conditions worsened in the southern Plains and Southeast Coast in 2022. As of Jan. 17, 2023, 44% of the lower 48 states were in some stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
It’s time to pump the brakes! As the Covid-19 pandemic runs its course through the global economy, greenhouse gas emissions have resumed their upward trend, rising 1% in 2022. Hopefully, this trajectory will be short-lived as leading industrial nations put climate policies in place to sharply reduce GHG emissions in coming years. In 2022, the U.S. passed the most significant climate legislation of the year, with an aim to cut GHG emissions in half by 2030 and to phase out all use of fossil fuels in the power sector by 2035. Also in 2022, California, Vermont and more than a dozen other states adopted plans to phase out sales of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Transportation is now America’s largest source of GHG emissions.
Natural disasters totaled $270 billion in global damages in 2022. With less than half of these damages covered by insurance, people in poorer countries were especially hard hit.
- The year’s second-costliest weather event (after Hurricane Ian in the U.S.), and the greatest humanitarian disaster, was severe flooding in Pakistan resulting from record-breaking monsoon rains. In August, rainfall in Pakistan was between five and seven times heavier than usual. Accelerated glacier melt as a result of unusually high temperatures significantly increased flooding that killed at least 1,700 people. Direct losses are estimated to be at least $15 billion – equal to nearly 5% of Pakistan’s GDP. Countless people lost all their belongings with almost nothing insured. Researchers estimate that the intensity of such a monsoonal event has increased by half because of climate change, with the trend accelerating as warming grows.
- In China, a protracted summer heat wave brought temperatures to more than 44° C (111° F) in many parts of the country, while drought led to severe water shortages and crop failures.
- The story was similar in Europe. The temperature rose above 40° C for the first time ever in the United Kingdom. In Germany and Italy, river water levels were so low that commercial shipping had to be severely restricted.
- In South America, a severe drought gripped southern Brazil, causing crop losses valued in the billions of dollars. And in Africa and Australia, severe flood events topped the year’s worst weather disasters.
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