The year 2021 has seen the coldest start to a year that I can remember in the north of England (my memory realistically goes back to the mid-late 1960s). That’s not to say that it has been the coldest start to the year here, since memory is a fickle thing. And of course, weather in one small part of the world does not represent weather globally, nor can a few months of weather be said to be representative of climatic trends.  

That said, is there any significant global cooling going on? I mean, I know it’s cold here – crossing the Pennines the other day, according to my car thermometer, a drop of another 2 or 3C and it could have started snowing. We still have daffodils in full bloom in the second half of May. The trees round here have only really started showing leafage in the last week or so. But that’s here. What’s going on globally?

Fortunately, there is a useful tool at hand for this purpose. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) devotes a section of its website to “State of the Climate” and provides a monthly global climate report (among many other things). Here is NOAA’s data for the last 12 months, directly compared to its data for the same months one year earlier. And the data tell no lies – yes it has been getting colder globally:

May 2020 -v- May 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature rose by 0.10C.

June 2020 -v- June 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.03C.

July 2020 -v- July 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.03C.

August 2020 -v- August 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature rose by 0.02C.

September 2020 -v- September 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature rose by 0.02C.

October 2020 -v- October 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.13C.

November 2020 -v- November 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature rose by 0.05C.

December 2020 -v- December 2019: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.38C.

January 2021 -v- January 2020: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.34C.

February 2021 -v- February 2020: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.52C.

March 2021 -v- March 2020: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.31C.

April 2021 -v- April 2020: global land and ocean surface temperature fell by 0.27C.

Implications?

Let’s not get excited about this. Data for a two-year period represents nothing of significance in climatic terms. Even if the numbers were significant, they could easily be attributed to La Nina or other factors that bear no relation to anthropogenic global warming. However, there has been a definite cooling trend recently, starting with a plateauing of the rising trend, followed by a decline, which became increasingly marked, and which is perhaps now slowing down.

It is difficult to attribute the cooling trend to the impact of lockdowns responding to the Covid virus, given that although humankind’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced during the pandemic, they still continued, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continued to increase. All things being equal, temperatures should be rising, not falling. But all things are not equal. La Nina might explain everything.

Whatever the case, the language adopted by NOAA is interesting. Even as temperatures fell year on year, no reference to this fact is made. Instead, referring to a month which was 0.34C colder than the same month a year earlier, we are regaled with comments like:

The January 2021 global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.80°C (1.44°F) above the 20th century average and ranked as the seventh warmest January in the 142-year global records.

And then, referring to a month which was 0.31C colder than the same month a year earlier, we have this:

“…the eighth highest [temperature departure] for March in the 142-year record

It isn’t a case of cooling, according to these statements. It’s more a case of less warming.

Global Land and Ocean Surface Temperature

By the way, how do you measure global land and ocean surface temperature, and then produce an average of the two?  Not surprisingly it’s complex. But is it meaningful? CarbonBrief has a fascinating section about this on its website. There are four major datasets (of which NOAA’s is one). The four datasets show warming at different rates (so there’s the first query about the accuracy of all this). The explanation for the differences is down to the way the different datasets “deal with having little or no data in remote parts of the world, measurement errors, changes in instrumentation over time and other factors that make capturing global temperature a less-than-straightforward task.” It sounds to me that there’s a lot that can go wrong there. The biggest issue (as CarbonBrief acknowledges) is lack of data in large sections of the world.  

One dataset (HADCRUT) leaves the blanks as blanks, rather than trying to fill them in. The others all use different statistical methodologies to try to fill in the blanks (but the fact remains that they’re still blanks, and however skilled the statistical methods, we can’t know that the blanks have been properly filled in).

Anyway, then they divide the globe into grid boxes (NASA uses different grid boxes to the other three). They also differ in how many land stations they have around the world, and in when their data series commenced. Then they combine the grid boxes to produce average temperatures for the northern and southern hemispheres. That’s a problem in itself, since the northern hemisphere provides more real data. And we haven’t even touched on the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI), and adjustments made to reflect that.

All of which makes the idea of an average global temperature (on a planet where temperatures can vary on any given day between two extremes by perhaps 100C) pretty meaningless, in my view.   However, (subject to issues such as whether the UHI is being properly adjusted for in an increasingly urbanised world) I do accept that these databases can pick up trends in global temperatures. Which brings me back to the point that NOAA’s database suggests that the world has been cooling for a little while now.

Final Thoughts

Given that the Guardian and the BBC run several climate-related articles a week, it might have been nice if they’d noticed – and mentioned – that it’s been getting colder for a few months now.   But they didn’t (at least not so far as I can see) so I thought I would.

In fact, the mainstream media don’t seem to have picked up on the recent cooling at all (a 0.52C year-on-year fall between February 2020 and February 2021 is apparently not at all newsworthy). Furthermore, in the run-up to COP 26 I don’t expect them to do so. The hysteria will continue, and I will be surprised if any of the media giants will be mentioning falling global temperatures any time soon. I bet they’d have mentioned a year-on-year increase of 0.52C though.

And there’s another thought. There’s lots of talk about the problems associated with global temperatures increasing by 1C, 2C, 3C, or even more, over the course of a century. Who would have thought that temperatures would drop by more than 0.5C in a single year?

And finally: How come the eighth highest temperature departure for March in 142 years felt so ruddy cold?

16 Comments

  1. Mark you haven’t touched the half of it. The role of temperature adjustments will loom large. Highly anonymous cooling will be edited. Your memories and experiences will be adjusted to fit the consensus view. If you persist heretic, you also will be edited. Soon CRU-NOAA will control every thermometer.

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  2. Other people have been doing lockdown projects. This blogger has been looking at temperature records and is reaching heretical conclusions:

    “My first aim has been to go back to basics, to examine the original temperature data, look for trends in that data, and to apply some basic error analysis to determine how significant those trends really are. Then I have sought to compare what I see in the original data with what climate scientists claim is happening. In most cases I have found that the temperature trends in the real data are significantly less than those reported by climate scientists. In other words, much of the reported temperature rises, particularly in Southern Hemisphere data, result from the data manipulations performed by the climate scientists on the data. This implies that many of the reported temperature rises are an exaggeration.”

    https://climatescienceinvestigations.blogspot.com/2020/12/45-review-of-year-2020.html

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I won’t get too excited until we have a lengthening “pause”, or perhaps “pause redux”. Even then we ought to measure trends over 30 years rather than shorter periods.

    Even then temperatures themselves are a little too abstract. I would prefer to move the battle onto the alleged consequences of global warming (e.g. declines in crop yields, climate refugees, etc, etc, which there are no signs of). I would be inclined to let alarmists trill about temperature records, and then reply: “And nothing bad happened.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is where I came in, about 14 years ago I believe, when Anthony Watts was posting photos of temperature stations placed on tarmac downwind of jet planes, and over at Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit they were discussing the adjustments that had to be made when the water for measuring ocean temperatures was hauled aboard in leather buckets instead of oaken ones. Then around 1940 the Brits (who owned 70% of merchant shipping) for some odd reason stopped measuring ocean temperatures and it was left up to the Yanks, who measured with thermometers attached to the hull near the water intake.. Suddenly the temperature of 79% of the earth’s surface jumped by a degree or two, and all because of U-boats.

    Does anyone have a link to an article (Steve Milloy?) pointing out how NOAA recently readjusted early 20th century temperatures downwards, almost doubling 20th century warming from 0.5°C to 0.9°C at the stroke of a pen, and therefore doubling the effort we have to make to keep temperature rise to less than 1.5°C? I mean, if they can admit in 2020 that the true figure for 20th century warming was twice the estimate made twenty years previously, what’s to stop them doing the same thing in 2040? Maybe the true figure for 20th century warming was 1.8°C and we passed the level of catastrophic warming ages ago and didn’t notice?

    The temperature graph is like a piece of string fixed at both ends. Present temperature measurements are correct by definition, otherwise the science wouldn’t be settled, which it is – Q.E.D. And temperatures in the dim distant past can’t be argued with, because they were measured by scientists at a limited number of sites (Central England, Paris, Prague, and – bizarrely – County Antrim spring to mind) and the thermometers used are in museums for anyone to check. So all the adjusters can do is mess with the figures in between, playing merry hell with MBH98 and a whole lot of other settled science.

    And one final thing. About the empty spaces in between which Mark mentions. I once mentioned that Météo France was claiming that my region of France had experienced 5°C of warming in 50 years. France, like the UK, USA, New Zealand etc. possesses a large number of islands scattered over the globe, which must have an inordinate effect on average temperature measurements. If you want to know how hot it is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it’s Kerguelen or nothing. There’s nothing there but a thermometer, and nowhere else for thousands of kilometres around. And the same goes for the Arctic, where, I read somewhere, NOAA one day chopped the number of reporting stations from hundreds to a dozen or so. My only experience of data sampling was in market research forty years ago. A survey manager who acted like the NOAA wouldn’t last long.

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  5. “Whatever the case, the language adopted by NOAA is interesting.” True, and I think we may hear more examples of this if we ever enter a “Pause 2” type situation.

    E.g., “This year 20xx has been relatively cold, but still among the warmest X out of the last XX years.”

    Also then maybe something like: “This year 20xx has been slightly cooler due to X (La Nina/volcanic dust/strong trade winds/heat hiding in the deep oceans/whatever) but CO2 emissions are still rising and global warming has not gone away – it’s just being masked by X, for now. So when X goes away, don’t worry, climate change will return with a vengeance”.

    And then, if it gets a bit warmer again, followed by: “There never was a “pause” in global warming or climate change”, as per the Guardian in 2014:
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2014/feb/12/global-warming-fake-pause-hiatus-climate-change

    Move along, nothing to see here!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for all the comments, and apologies for the delay in replying, due to being busy with other stuff.

    JIT – I’m not excited at all. As I’m at pains to point out in the piece, this is very short-lived cooling so far, and may readily be explicable by something like La Nina. I just find it disappointing that there is absolutely no balance in media coverage, and even NOAA seem to me to be more supportive of an agenda than of objective science.

    I do agree that (at least absent any long-term cooling) the best strategy is to point to the lack of real problems firmly attributable to climate change, despite the hype. But then, we do have a problem in saying that, since much of the media, especially the Guardian and the BBC in the UK, will big up every passing press release relating to climate alarmism, and will happily attribute any and every bad or problematic event to climate change.

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  7. Looking for Sky News’s daily climate show I came across their Global Warming Tracker, produced by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.
    https://news.sky.com/story/the-daily-climate-show-track-global-warming-with-our-live-counters-12262823

    This purports to show global temperature change in real time, but in fact is simply a clock recalibrated in °C reproducing a straight line temperature rise from 1880 to the present. It shows temperature rising by about 0.000000001°C per second, completely ignoring the fact that monthly average global temperatures regularly drop tens of millions of times that over a period of months or even years. What does Ofcom think about this fake news?

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  8. This is a tragedy, and I feel bad even mentioning it. However, it suggests that cooling extends to China currently:

    “China ultramarathon: Severe weather kills 21 runners”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-57216601

    “Twenty-one runners have died after extreme weather struck a long-distance race in north-western China.

    High winds and freezing rain hit participants in the 100km (60-mile) ultramarathon in the Yellow River Stone Forest, a tourist site in Gansu province, on Saturday.

    The race was halted when some of the 172 runners went missing, and a rescue operation was launched.

    Many of the stranded runners reportedly suffered from hypothermia.”

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  9. “Wet and cold May leads to fruit crop delay”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-57255320

    “Fruit crops such as strawberries and plums are expected to be up to three weeks late this year due to the recent cold and wet weather.

    The berry season officially started on 1 May but the chilly conditions have slowed down the growing process.

    Michael Bentley, from Castle Fruit Farm near Newent in Gloucestershire, said it was in stark contrast to last year.

    “Compared to last year they’re going to be about three weeks late. This is nature for you,” he said.”

    Nature, not climate change. And of course he’s right, but if it had been an unusually dry and hot May…?

    I see the media seems to have stopped telling us that spring is arriving earlier every year.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A couple of years (or it could be a lifetime) ago, it was a different story, when the Guardian was reporting on the unease and existential dread lurking just beneath the surface of a warmer than usual early spring:
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/26/i-cant-help-but-be-concerned-readers-spot-early-signs-of-spring

    Quoted are the comments of seemingly random but somehow very Guardian members of the public.

    “It’s lovely but worryingly mild”.

    “The scenes are very beautiful… but I know I’m seeing them too early: climate change terrifies me”.

    “This wild [early blossoming] plum tree grows alongside a public footpath where dog walkers, joggers, families with children and young couples are casually passing without even noticing it.” [The horror…]

    “Watching the way they [bees] are reacting to February temperatures that are really too high is fascinating. Honey bees are the ultimate evolvers, but I can’t help but be concerned!”

    However, fast forward to an unusually chilly April 2021 and it’s all strictly weather:
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/12/spring-cold-snap-hits-as-england-relaxes-covid-lockdown-restrictions

    Liked by 2 people

  11. “Experts warn hillgoers: summer slow to arrive on Scotland’s mountains”

    https://www.grough.co.uk/magazine/2021/05/27/experts-warn-hillgoers-summer-slow-to-arrive-on-scotlands-mountains

    “Mountain experts are warning those heading for the Scottish hills that summer has been slow to arrive.

    Mountaineering Scotland said a Mountain Leader posted pictures of his group on the summit of Ben Nevis last weekend in full winter conditions.

    A spokesperson for the organisation, which represents hillwalkers, climbers, mountaineers and ski-tourers north of the border, said: “While we’re on the countdown to midge season, and ticks have already been making their presence felt in the glens, cooler than average temperatures have meant many late-lying snow patches remain, some of them icy when the temperature drops.

    “Hillwalkers and climbers have been delighted to get back to Scotland’s mountains in recent weeks.

    “But Scotland’s weather hasn’t been playing ball with people’s dreams of returning to the heights.””

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  12. NOAA’s report for May 2021 is now in. The global surface temperature was 0.14C lower than in May 2020. It may well be that the cooling trend of the last few months is slowing.

    At least my perception of a cool start to the year in Europe (or my bit of it), which included a cold May, has been borne out:

    “Cooler-than-average May temperatures were observed across parts of North America, the eastern Pacific Ocean, central Europe, and central Asia and India. There was a small area in eastern India that had a record-cold May temperature, encompassing only 0.1% of the world surface with a record-cold May temperature. The European temperature for May 2021 was 0.41°C (0.74°F) above average and was the coolest May since 2004. Several central European countries had their coolest May in at least 10 years. Of note, Germany had its coldest May since 2010, with a temperature that was 2.4°C (4.3°F) below the 1991–2020 period. The United Kingdom’s national temperature was 1.3°C (2.3°F) below the 1981–2010 average and was the coldest for May since 1996. North America also had a temperature departure for May that was above average; however, it was also the coolest May since 2011.”

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