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It Hasn't Been This Hot In a Scary Long Time

Image: Christopher L./Flickr
Image: Christopher L./Flickr

Did it feel hot to you last month? Blisteringly, oppressively hot? You weren’t imagining things. It was the hottest month on Earth since humans began keeping scientific records in the 1880s. In all likelihood, it was the hottest month since the last interglacial period ended 125,000 years ago.

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That is according to NASA, whose preliminary data on July 2016's place in the climate science hall of fame and misery was promptly tweeted out by Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt. As you can see from that stray temperature anomaly line at the top of the graph below, no other year has really given 2016 a run for its money.

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Globally, Earth’s surface temperature last month averaged 0.84 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the historic mean temperature for July. July, 2016 also pulled in 0.11 degrees Celsius warmer than July 2015, swiping the title of hottest month in recorded history. Although our planet has seen a seemingly endless string of record-smashingly hot months (14 according to NOAA, but who’s counting?) the hottest of the year always occurs at the height of the northern hemisphere’s summer.

What’s fueling the planetary perspiration? We’re still coming off the tail-end of a very strong El Niño, which managed to stir up a lot of heat in the equatorial Pacific, not to mention push our atmosphere past the historic 400 ppm CO2 milestone for an entire year. Of course, what nudged us close to the 400 ppm milestone, and what continues to fuel heat record after heat record isn’t just El Niño, but the inexorable burning of fossil fuels and release of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere.

In other words, it isn’t too surprising that we just lived through the hottest month on record. You may remember that July saw exceptional heat waves around the world, with punishing, corn sweat-fueled temperatures of above 48.8 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) across the central United States. On July 21st, thermometers in Mitribah, Kuwait jumped to 54 degrees Celsius (129.2 degrees Fahrenheit)—a single-day heat record for the eastern hemisphere.

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It’s almost as if parts of our planet are soon going to become uninhabitable for humans. Oh yea, science predicted that, too.

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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DISCUSSION

I’m 21st-century-spoiled-as-fuck-ing my way through the heat wave rolling through the DC region, racing from one air-conditioned space to another.

It. Is. AWFUL. Outside. I think it finally started cooling off today, and the heat index will only hit 108.

I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for anyone having to work or spend any significant amount of time outside lately.

This isn’t the American southwest; ground cover is dying off and heat-related emergency room admissions are way up.

This shit is dangerous.