Really? w/ Liam Healy: New Climate Normals Released

Digital Desk

Asheville, NC (WVNS) — On May 4, 2021, NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) released an updated set of average highs, lows, and precipitation values for the United States. As a whole, the country has warmed in the past 10 years since we last re-evaluated the state of our climate. That change is even more drastic when you compare it to the climate averages from the beginning of the 20th-century.

What about in West Virginia?

For Bluefield, the most recent release places us 0.8-degrees above the 20th century average (1901-2000) for the period from 1991-2020. This essentially doubles the anomaly of 0.4-degrees above the 20th century average we observed the last time we re-evaluated our climate normals in 2010.

If you keep up with trends or are a weather buff, this shouldn’t come as a shock to you. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the earth experienced eight of its ten hottest years ever recorded. The last five years of the decade all feature in the top five.

Why is this important?

As we reset our averages to reflect how much warmer temperatures have been from 1991 to 2020 versus 1981 to 2010 it becomes that much harder to identify an anomalous day. Particularly those that are above average. E.g. if you set the bar higher for a pole vaulter, they’re going to have to jump higher to clear it. In theory, our temperatures are going to have to do the same.

Two rows of small US maps showing annual U.S. temperatures during each official Normals compares to the 20th-century average
Credit: NOAA, based on analysis by Jared Rennie, North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies/NCEI.

This is why we maintain the 20th-century average (1901-2000) as a baseline to compare our 30-year averages too and to track climate change. According to the NCEI, this is because “The 1901–2000 baseline offers more consistency as conditions change over time…” (NCEI 2021). Comparing our new set of normals to those of the 20th-century average, it’s fairly evident there’s nothing normal about the last 30 years when it comes to temperatures.

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