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‘A Brave New Atmosphere’: February Breaks Global Climate Records


The story of climate change has become very familiar, but the February climate report released by NASA added frightening new chapter. February 2016 broke the global climate record by a couple tenths of a degree.

"To break a record by a couple tenths of a degree... that's just monstrous. It was an immense spike in the planet's heat."

While that may not sound like a lot, meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters says it’s an ominous sign.

“When you’re talking about global climate records, you’re used to breaking records by maybe a hundredth of a degree. To break a record by a couple tenths of a degree, I mean, that’s just monstrous. It was an immense spike in the planet’s heat,” he says.

Winter has been very warm here in Wisconsin, which is partly due to a strong El Niño. But warming from El Niño doesn’t explain the extreme temperature anomaly.

Many Wisconsinites have welcomed the relatively mild weather, especially after the last couple winters in the region. But the record-breaking heat of this February may not be a sign of warmer weather in the future. The effects of climate change have resulted in both the warmest months on record and record-breaking cold of the polar vortex. In fact, Masters warns that the future of global climate is headed into uncharted territory.

“Expect the unprecedented. We’re moving into an unprecedented sort of atmosphere that we’ve never experienced before,” he says. “The climate you knew growing up in the 20th century that’s no more. It’s a brave new atmosphere out there. We’re in the 21st century and things are changing really rapidly and we don’t really understand what these changes are going to bring about.”

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.