With frigid temperatures and snow in large parts of the continental United States, it may feel unlikely, but 2010 brought the world possibly record-breaking heat. This January through November was the warmest recorded by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), whose analysis covers 131 years.
With only a month of data left to go, 2010 is a few hundredths of a degree warmer than 2005, the warmest year.
"Even if the December global temperature anomaly is unusually cool, 2010 will at least be in a statistical tie with 2005 for the warmest year," GISS researchers wrote in a statement.
This year caps a decade of rapid rise in global surface temperatures, according to the team.
Temperature data for November 2010 showed two significant anomalies: Northern Europe experienced temperatures more than 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) colder than usual, while the Hudson Bay region of Canada experienced temperatures of more than 18 degrees F (10 degrees C) above the norm, according to the researchers.
The absence of ice over the Hudson Bay may be behind the warming in that region, since sea ice typically insulates the atmosphere from warmth stored in ocean water, they wrote. In spite of the cooling seen this year, seven of the last 10 European winters were warmer than the average winters from 1951- 1980, a trend that is even stronger for summers, they wrote. Abnormally warm summer temperatures triggered a devastating heat wave in Europe in 2003, which was blamed for thousands of deaths, and this year ignited a heat wave and wildfires in Russia.
If the obvious warming trend for European summers continues, as is expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase, such extremes will become common within a few decades, they wrote.
- Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points
- 7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye
- 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming
You can follow LiveScience writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry.