The past four years have been the four warmest ever recorded — and now, according to a new scientific forecast, the next four will also probably be “anomalously warm,” even beyond what the steady increase in global warming would produce on its own.
That could include another record warmest year, even warmer than the current record year of 2016. It could also include an increased risk of heat extremes and a major heat event somewhere in the Earth’s oceans, of the sort that have triggered recent die-offs of coral reefs across the tropics.
A new climate prediction system called PROCAST (PROabilistic foreCAST) predicts the natural variability of the climate system. This refers to how the climate varies naturally from warm to cool phases that last a few years at a time, and is separate from the long-term trend of anthropogenic global warming. PROCAST predicts a warm phase for the next few years.
The research carried out by Florian Sevellec, a scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and Sybren Drijfhout of the University of Southampton, is important as such forecasts help predict the chances of events like heatwaves or cold snaps months in advance.
“What we found is that for the next five years or so, there is a high likelihood of an anomalously warm climate compared to anomalously cold,” said Florian Sevellec.
It is now well established that anomalous climatic events have a direct human impact. For example, heatwaves lead to excess deaths in only a few weeks. During the 2003 European heatwave, a long drought caused UK wheat production to drop by 12%.
Tougher winters worsen respiratory infections, increasing pressure on health services and the supply of drugs. Indeed, consumption of flu vaccines can vary significantly depending on the weather conditions. In the UK, snowy conditions in winter 2010 were estimated to have cost the economy £690m a day, while natural gas consumption increased massively.
Predicting extreme climatic events up to a season in advance allows early adaptation and cost-effective mitigation.
Already, 2018 is shaping up to be a pretty warm year — although not record-breaking. For instance, the period from March through May of this year was .87 degrees Celsius (1.57 degrees Fahrenheit) above the planet’s average from 1951-1980, making that the third-warmest such stretch in the temperature record, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.