It might not feel like it right now with all 50 states facing freezing temperatures this week, but 2014 is on track to be the warmest year ever recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms that last month was the hottest October recorded across the world, which means five months of the past six broke records (July managed only to be the fourth-warmest).
The last two months of the year would simply have to be an average month in order for 2014 to go on record as the hottest year we’ve experienced yet. As Chris Mooney has written at Wonkblog, we've now had 356-straight months of warmer-than-average temperatures (through October). Anyone under 30 years old has never seen a month that was simply average in global temperature compared to the 20th century.
What climate-change deniers confuse is that temperatures in specific parts of the world, like North America, don't always conform to global trends—which is why scientists look at the bigger picture of temperature records to judge climate trends. Temperatures in North America have been much colder than average, by 1.5 degrees Celsius, this year. This isn't "proof" that global warming doesn't exist, and research even links some extreme swings in temperatures, including wintry weather, to climate change. Slate's Eric Holthaus explains how it's possible climate change boosted the lake-effect snow that buried western New York under 60 inches this week: “As the Great Lakes warm due to climate change, there’s now more evaporation, and more of an opportunity for that drastic water-air temperature difference to manifest itself, especially during the kinds of intense cold air outbreaks that we’ve been seeing seemingly more of over the last few years.”
North America’s chilly year is an anomaly considering what’s happening elsewhere in the world. That includes the oceans, which continue to climb even higher on the temperature charts, now 0.6 degrees Celsius above last century's average.