Let's Be Clear: 2016 Was the Hottest Year in Recorded History

By: Patrick J. Kiger

NASA's Analysis of 2016 Global Temperature NASA Goddard
NASA's Analysis of 2016 Global Temperature NASA Goddard

If you needed yet another reason to consider 2016 to be a major bummer of a year, here it is. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just announced that 2016 had the highest global average temperature since the historical record began in 1880.

Scientists from NASA and the UK's Met Office concurred that 2016 was a record; you can visualize NASA's findings in the above video.


The average global surface temperature, which includes land and water, was 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit (14.83 degrees Celsius). That narrowly beat 2015, which previously was the hottest year ever, by 0.07 degrees F (0.04 degrees Celsius). When 2015 set the record, it beat out 2014 before it.

And it's not as if that number comes from a few hotspots. As this NOAA chart above shows, just about everywhere on the planet's surface was warmer than in the past, with many places — from Chile in the south to Alaska and Siberia to the north — posting record high temperatures. No land areas were cooler than average for the year.

Last year, which was 1.69 degrees F (0.95 degrees C) higher than the average during the 20th century, was pretty uniformly hot across the calendar. In fact, eight of the 12 months of 2016 were the warmest on record for that particular month.

El Niño, a cyclical warming pattern in the Pacific that influences global weather, played a role in the record. NASA scientists determined that it increased global temperatures by about 0.2 degrees F (0.11 degrees C).

To climate scientists, the key takeaway is not that 2016 topped the charts, but that the multi-year trend line is going up. The previous two years also were record-breakers, and the 12 hottest years on record all have occurred since 1998.

"We don't expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a press release. If you're interested in learning more, dig into the data presented in the full NOAA report here.