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2016 was warmest year on record, scientists announce

Global temperatures continued their steady march upward in 2016, once again breaking climate records, scientists announced Wednesday.

Last year was the warmest year on record, topping a previous record set in 2015, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced Wednesday.

It marks the third consecutive year, and the fifth time in 12 years, that a global average temperature record has fallen.

Oklahoma saw its third-warmest year, with an average temperature of 62.3 degrees, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. The state's overall warmth for the year was driven in large part by temperatures that remained in the 80s and, in a few cases, the low 90s, well into November.

That unusual heat, combined with relatively meager rainfall, plunged some parts of the state into drought. About 72 percent of the state finished the year in drought, with about 46 percent of it being in severe or extreme drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor records.

El Nino was a factor

Although last year's record warmth was driven in part by a strong El Nino weather pattern that remained in effect at the beginning of the year, Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA laboratory, said the pattern only accounted for about 10 percent of last year's warmth.

The biggest factor, Schmidt said, was the ongoing global warming trend driven primarily by greenhouse gases.

The agencies' findings are based on separate analyses of global temperature data performed by researchers at each of the two agencies.

Reinforcing the two agencies' conclusions are similar findings released Wednesday by other researchers, including a group of climate scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Met Office, the British national weather and climate service.

Although the various studies use different methodologies and show slightly varying results, each shows the same pattern: global temperatures have been climbing for decades and have increased sharply over the past five years.

The studies are "all singing the same song, even if they are hitting different notes along the way," said Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, based in Asheville, N.C.

Researchers at NASA placed last year's global average temperature at 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, while their counterparts at NOAA placed 2016's average at 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

In a conference call with journalists, Schmidt said much of the difference in those findings comes from how the two agencies account for conditions in the Arctic Ocean, which saw drastic warmth in 2016. The sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean was about 12.6 percent below normal last year, the lowest level on record.

Although much of last year's record warmth was concentrated in the Arctic Ocean, its effects reached North America, including Oklahoma. The continental United States saw its second-warmest year on record, and Alaska saw its warmest year, scientists said.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›