According to the National Weather Service (NWS), there is a 99 percent chance that 2014 will be the hottest year in California’s recorded history.
— NWS Hanford (@NWSHanford) November 4, 2014
That one percent chance of it not being the hottest year? That would require “a December that’s basically colder than anything we’ve had in California,” Paul Iniguez, science operations officer for NWS’ Hanford, CA office, told ClimateCentral.
Last month, California officially entered its fourth year of drought. For the 2013-2014 period, the state experienced less than 60 percent of its traditional precipitation, and its reservoirs are currently at 36 percent capacity. Last year was technically the driest year in California history, which has contributed to 2014 becoming the hottest. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has explained that higher temperatures cause faster evaporation and lead to rain instead of snowfall at higher elevations. Without mountain snowpack, California’s reservoirs will not be refilled, leading to an accelerating cycle of dryness and heat.
The cause of California’s ongoing drought is a region of high atmospheric pressure known as the “ridiculously resistant ridge, which extends from the subtropical Pacific waters to the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. Such a ridge is not unusual, but its persistence is. A study recently published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has shown that the RRR is three times more likely to occur in a high-carbon atmosphere, meaning climate change may be a major contributing factor.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), California has already had the hottest six-month period in its history. Temperatures from January through June 2014 were 4.8 degrees F higher than average, and 1.1 degrees F higher than the previous record.
And this year’s record heat isn’t limited to California. NOAA also reports that 2014 may beat out 2010 as the hottest year ever (a glance at the image below, courtesy of ClimateCentral, shows that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century).