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Earth Sends Climate Warning by Busting World Heat Records

First decade of 21st Century warmest on record; US locations break 7,000 temperature records in March

- Common Dreams staff

Accelarated climate change, driven by human activity, has led to soaring temperatures around the world and the decade between 2001 and 2010 was the warmest ever recorded in all continents of the globe, according to a new report released by the World Meteorological Organization.

Additionally, an 'unprecedented' heatwave in the United States "has set or tied more than 7,000 high temperature records" across the country, according to a report from Climate Central. "This heat wave is essentially unprecedented," said the media and research orgnanization's Heidi Cullen told Reuters. "It's hard to grasp how massive and significant this is."

The increase in global temperatures since 1971 has been “remarkable” according to the WHO's assessment. Atmospheric and oceanic phenomena such as La Niña events had a temporary cooling influence in some years, the report says, but did not halt the overriding warming trend.

The “dramatic and continuing sea ice decline in the Arctic” was one of the most prominent features of the changing state of the climate during the decade, according to the preliminary findings. Global average precipitation was the second highest since 1901 and flooding was reported as the most frequent extreme event, it said.

“This 2011 annual assessment confirms the findings of the previous WMO annual statements that climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat. The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans," he added.

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Reuters: US Heat 'Unprecedented,' 7,000 Records Set or Tied

An "unprecedented" March heat wave in much of the continental United States has set or tied more than 7,000 high temperature records, and signals a warming climate, health and weather experts said on Friday.

While natural climate variability plays a major role, it is the addition of human-spurred climate change that makes this particular hot spell extraordinary, the scientists said in a telephone and web briefing. [...]

Since March 12, more than 7,000 high temperature records have been equaled or exceeded, Cullen said, citing figures from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center.

These records include daytime high temperatures and record-high low temperatures overnight, which in some cases are higher than previous record highs for the day, Cullen said.

"When low temperatures are breaking previous record highs, that's when you see this is incredibly special," she said.

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From Climate Central: State-by-State Look at How Early Spring Has Arrived:Click for access to interactive map at Climate Central.

For most of the country spring has sprung earlier this year, but is this anything more than a single warm year? It seems that it is. During the past several decades, with the exception of the Southeast, spring weather has, indeed, been arriving earlier.

In the interactive above, you can see how much earlier spring has arrived state-by-state, measured by the date of "first leaf." As you hover over any state, it'll display two boxes: a gray box that represents the day spring used to arrive (based on the 1951-1980 average) and a colored box that represents how much earlier spring has arrived in recent years (based on the 1981-2010 average).

Nationwide, the date of “first leaf” has clearly shifted — arriving roughly three days earlier now on March 17th (1981-2010 average) from March 20th (1951-1980 average). This shift affects all sorts of biological processes that are triggered by warmer temperatures — not just flowering, but animal migration and giving birth and the shedding of winter coats and the emergence from cocoons. How much will an earlier spring disrupt the intricate natural balance between the tens of thousands of species that depend on each other for food, reproduction and ultimately, survival? No one really knows.

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AFP adds:

"Most likely the weird weather arises from natural variation on top of a warming climate," said Michael Oppenheimer, a geoscientist at Princeton and a veteran participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "What we're seeing now is not surprising in the greenhouse world ... It's just the beginning of our experience with the new atmosphere."

Oppenheimer was a lead author of the panel's path-breaking 2007 report that analyzed research by hundreds of scientists and found there was a 90 percent probability that climate change is occurring and human activities contribute to it.

That report projected an increase in heat waves, droughts, floods, severe storms and extreme temperatures as a result of human-spurred global warming, caused in part by rising emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel burning.

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The WMO report looks at the increased prevalence of extreme weather events around the world:

Numerous weather and climate extremes affected almost every part of the globe with flooding, droughts, cyclones, heat waves, and cold waves. Two exceptional heat waves hit Europe and Russia during summer 2003 and 2010 respectively with disastrous impacts and thousands of deaths and outbreaks of prolonged bush fires.

Flooding was the most reported extreme event during the decade with many parts of the world affected. Historical widespread and prolonged flooding affected Eastern Europe in 2001 and 2005, Africa in 2008, Asia (in particular Pakistan) in 2010 and India in 2005, and Australia in 2010.

A large number of countries reported extreme drought conditions, including Australia, eastern Africa, the Amazonia region and the western United States. Humanitarian consequences were significant in eastern Africa during the first half of the decade, with widespread shortage of food and loss of lives and livestock.

Forty-eight out of 102 countries (47 per cent) reported that their highest national maximum temperature was recorded in 2001-2010, compared to 20 per cent for 1991-2000 and around 10 per cent for the earlier decades.

The decade saw the highest level of tropical cyclone activity on record for the North Atlantic basin. In 2005 category 5 hurricane Katrina was the most costly hurricane to hit the United States, with a significant human toll of more than 1 800 deaths. In 2008, tropical cyclone Nargis was the worst natural disaster in Myanmar and the world’s deadliest tropical cyclone during the decade, killing more than 70 000 people.

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