July 2019 was the hottest July and the hottest month on record globally since temperature records began in a year of many record-breaking temperatures as heat waves hit many parts of the world.
This trend of high temperatures and heatwaves looks set to continue, with more extreme heat set to hit parts of the U.S. and the U.K. this week, making for a warm August. Scientists say that as long as the world continues to emit greenhouse gases at the current rates, climate change-related impacts will continue to be felt.
“If you put all of the Julys for the last 20 or 40 or 100 years, there’s a clear trend upward. That’s the concern — that long-term trend. Not a single day or single month in particular,” says Michael Allen, a climate scientist at Old Dominion University.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the figures Thursday, confirming that worldwide, July was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit (.95 degrees Celsius) warmer than the average of 56.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The record-setting July follows the hottest June on record, rising .71 degrees Fahrenheit (0.95 Celsius) above the average temperature for that month.
Regions across the world experienced record-breaking temperatures; the continent of Africa experienced its hottest month on record, and countries across Europe — including France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, and Luxembourg — experienced the hottest days in their nations’ history.
Announcing the figures, Deke Arndt of NOAA said that the land temperature was the second hottest on record, measured at 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average for July, while the ocean was the warmest on record for July, at around 1.5 degree Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average.
However, climate scientists say that while the high temperatures were troubling, the real problem is that they’re part of a larger pattern. Last month was the 43rd July in a row — and the 415th consecutive month — with temperatures above the 20th century average.
Record-high temperatures “almost entirely” caused by climate change
According to NOAA, there are three big reasons why the global temperature was so hot.
First, if the global temperature is going to set a record, it’s mostly going to be in July, which worldwide is the hottest month of the year.
Second, there’s a normal amount of variability in the weather. The most significant factor was that earlier this year, El Niño warm weather conditions formed on the Pacific, causing warmer-than-average weather conditions.
However, NOAA and climate scientists agree that one of the most important reasons that the world is within striking distance of setting global temperatures is climate change. Arndt says that the records are “almost entirely due to climate change.”
NOAA scientists have warned rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere impacts the climate.
“Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in the atmosphere, which has consequences,” James Butler, director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, said in May. “There’s no getting around it — burning fossil fuels is changing the course of our planet’s future. How society deals with that will be a major challenge in coming decades.”
Where high temperatures have the biggest impact
Hot temperatures have a particularly grave impact on Arctic regions, which can have serious global consequences.
The hot temperatures had a particularly grave impact on sea ice. The average sea ice on the Arctic was at a record low, dropping to 19.8% below average — breaking the previous historic low set in July 2012.
Twila Moon, a research scientist from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, tells TIME that while ice reflects the sun, but when it melts, the sun shines on dark land or water, which absorbs more heat.
When land ice melts, it also contributes to rising ocean levels, which can cause coastal erosion, inland flooding and contamination of freshwater. “Changes in the Arctic and Antarctic, which feel very far away, actually are directly connected with the kinds of impacts that we can see here — with rising sea levels, with changing characters of storms,” Moon says.
In the United States, many of these impacts are visible in Alaska. This July was “easily” the state’s hottest month on record, according to Rick Thoman of the International Arctic Research Center. Many places experienced their hottest days on record; the city of Anchorage experienced its first 90 degree day.
Researchers determined that was no sea ice within 125 miles of the Alaskan coast, and there were reports of malnourished animals — including birds, seals, and walrus — washing up in the western part of the state.
Moon argues that a storm like Hurricane Barry — which caused record rainfall in Arkansas — may have been worsened by climate change. “Any storm that passes through is going to have a larger impact to create greater flooding and more extensive impacts than it could before,” Moon says.
Record-high temperatures have impacts on cities
The hot temperatures had various impacts in cities around the world.
Gary Chatelain, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, said that heat waves can have negative health effects. “You are more likely to develop a heat illness quicker in this type of weather, when it’s really humid and hot,” Chatelain said.
Urban areas around the world experienced record temperatures this summer. After France experienced record temperatures in late June, about 4,000 schools closed and traffic restrictions were put in place to help the country cope with pollution, according to French news.
City residents in Russia’s Siberia region and in Anchorage, Alaska have also been forced to cope with plumes of smoke from major wildfires. In Russia, more than 17 million acres were scorched over two months. In Alaska, 2.4 million acres have burned.
Thoman said that while a source of ignition — such as a lightning strike — is necessary to start a wildfire, warm temperatures also play a role.
“In the sub-Arctic and the boreal forest, temperatures are really important,” Thoman said. “You would not expect, for instance, to get a big wildfire season when temperatures are below normal.”
Correction Aug. 20
The original version of this story misstated July temperature trends. Last month was the 43rd July in a row above the 20th century average, it was not “about the 20th century average.”
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