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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Earth kept warming last year, continuing a 40-year trend

011223 NOAA temperature graphic .jpg
National Centers for Environmental Information
Map of global average surface temperature in 2022 compared to the 1991-2020 average. Red means warmer than average, blue means cooler than average. Bottom graph shows how average global temperatures have risen in comparison to the 20th-century average yearly since 1976 (left).

Federal climate scientists say the global average temperature last year was the sixth highest on record. The past nine years have been the warmest since 1880 and the long-term trend tells the same story.

"It's clear that each of the past four decades has been warmer than the decade that preceded it," said Russell Vose, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville. "And there's really been a steady steady rise in temperature since at least the 1960s."

That's more evidence -- as if we needed it -- that the global climate is changing. And scientists say it's because of human activity. The changing temperatures mean more above-normal days year-round, including longer heat waves in summer and shorter cold waves in winter.

The data comes from NOAA's annual climate report published last week.

The Earth’s average land and ocean surface temperature last year was 1.55 degrees Fahrenheit (0.86 of a degree Celsius) higher than the 20th-century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.9 degrees C), according to NOAA. The average temperature change is even greater if you compare it to the late 19th-century average -- 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.11 degrees C).

Two similar analyses (from NASA and the European Commission) actually put 2022 at No. 5 on the all-time heat list. The takeaway here is that independent researchers agree on the broad trend.

"That's a trend that is growing in magnitude. And it's a trend that if we don't take it seriously and have some real action to mitigate it, there are going to be deadly effects across this globe," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.

The 2015 Paris climate agreement set a goal of holding global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels. Scientists say any warmer than that, and we risk even more dire climate effects.

NOAA also noted in its report that temperatures have been warmer than the 20th-century average every year since 1977.

That's nearly a half-century of above-average temperatures.

These ongoing annual fractions of a degree of warming bring extreme weather and other side effects, such as hurricanes, winter storms, severe thunderstorms, droughts, heat waves, flooding and crop freezes. It also can bring challenges for public health.

NOAA and NASA also reported last week that 18 major disasters in 2021 caused more than a billion dollars in damage each. Those led to 474 deaths and cost $165 billion nationwide, the third-highest total on record. Hurricane Ian, which devastated Florida and also caused damage up the coast to the Carolinas, was the third-most costly storm ever, resulting in more than $100 billion in damage.

"Climate change is enhancing certain types of extremes that may lead to billion-dollar disasters. A warming planet … means we need to be prepared for the impacts of climate change that are happening here and now, like the more frequent and disruptive extreme events," said NOAA Chief Scientist Sarah Kapnick.

011923 Charlotte winter temperatures since 1970.jpg
Climate Central

As I've reported previously, winter is the fastest-warming season in many parts of the U.S. Nationally, winters have warmed 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, according to the data from the research group Climate Central.

Cities around the Carolinas are seeing winter temperature rises above the national average, including Charlotte, Greenville, N.C., and Charleston (+3.9 degrees), Columbia (+3.4 degrees), Greenville-Spartanburg (+4 degrees), the Greensboro and Winston-Salem area (+4.5 degrees), and Raleigh (+4.8 degrees). Last year's warm winter pushed the average up again in many places.

Read more about NOAA's 2022 climate report at NOAA.gov.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's Climate newsletter, which is published Thursdays.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.