NASA GISS: 2011 9th-warmest year on record – hot for a strong La Niña

NASA GISS temperature record 2011
Graph of the day: world temperature record between 1880 and 2011, showing annual and 5-year mean temperature, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) data. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Robert Simmon.

According to the world’s best representative temperature dataset nine of the ten hottest years since 1880 have occurred after the year 2000. The fact that even 2011 ranks in this top ten says a lot about the global temperature development, as the year was strongly La Niña-dominated – which means the measured temperatures ought to be below the actual trend.

[For the same reason the one 20th century year that still holds on to a top ten position is the year 1998, which brought a very strong El Niño, so that had its average temperatures as a peak above the rising trend line.]

According to NASA GISS the years 2005 and 2010 are statistically tied for hottest year.

“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting,” said GISS Director James E. Hansen. “So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”

The new maximum, the new El Niño, the new record

As our regulars are well aware we have currently entered a new solar maximum – which will last to approximately the year 2017. Although the net influence on the world average temperature is far smaller than for instance ENSO variability (and much smaller than the influence on local climate phenomena) a strong solar maximum can still create an additional temperature rise of approximately 0.1 degrees Celsius.

That is very close to the difference between the hottest (2010) and the 9th hottest (2011) years: 0.12 degrees Celsius. This means we can be almost certain any strong new El Niño episode will once again break the temperature record. (Currently though, we are still in a La Niña phase.)

Local temperature records of 2011

For West Europe the year 2011 brought a lot of climate extremes, with an exceptionally hot and dry spring, a very warm autumn and winter – and a cool and extremely rainy summer. All seasons combined for different West-European countries the year 2011 was the hottest on record, for instance in Belgium, France, Spain (‘hottest in 50 years’) and Switzerland. The UK experienced the second hottest year on record and for the Netherlands 2011 was the third warmest year.
Trend spring summer autumn Europe 2011
Infographic showing a succession of climate extremes, which occurred in West Europe in 2011. After a very hot and sunny spring, summer was cool and wet, followed by a warm and dry autumn – still shown as forecast here. Image from late August 2011. Full resolution at Infographics Page. Credit:, Jorn van Dooren.

Among many other global climate extremes especially the hot US summer of 2011 is noteworthy. The North American cold winter of 2010-2011 was not just a La Niña phenomenon (through the NE Pacific high – cold winds from West Canada), but (through Arctic Oscillation) also related to the then solar minimum – which is why (on November 10 2011) we forecast this US winter would bring fewer snowstorm outbreaks.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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