Instead of parkas and snow boots, this month’s weather in New Jersey has required sweaters, at most – and last weekend was too warm even for sweaters.
Through Thursday, the average temperature for December was on a pace to exceed the previous record high for the month throughout the state. While that could change in the second half of the month, the current forecast calls for colder weather this weekend but highs back up into the 60s in most of New Jersey by Christmas.
“This December we are on a pace to break the 2006 record (which was 6.6 degrees above normal), perhaps by several degrees,” said New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson, who is a professor at Rutgers University. “Temperatures are expected to return to close to normal this weekend and then warm up again quite a lot next week. The last week of the year also is forecast to be milder than average. So I think the odds favor this being a record breaker.”
Robinson said the state is between 11 and 12 degrees above average right now. Last Sunday, the mercury rose above 75 degrees in Oswego Lake in Burlington County and Hammonton in Atlantic County, and it topped 70 degrees in about two dozen other locations from Cape May to Passaic County.
Around the same time the state was setting record highs, world leaders were approving an accord requiring all nations to take action to combat global warming – limiting global warming, at worst, to no more than an additional 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with a goal of keeping that warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
The recent warm weather cannot directly be attributed to climate change, however. It’s due to weather patterns that have kept cold air to the north and warm air over the eastern half of the United States.
Still, data shows New Jersey temperatures are warming. Robinson said the five of the state’s six warmest Decembers since 1895 have occurred since 2011, with 2006’s mean temperature of 42.2 being the state’s hottest.
“When looking at one year you certainly cannot attribute an anomaly to climate change, rather we’re talking about a weather anomaly,” Robinson said. “However when you step back and look at the bigger picture, the common warmth of the past several decades (including, but not exclusively, Decembers) is associated with a warmer world. This warming is largely attributable to human impacts on the climate system.”
New Jersey has also experienced its hottest March, April, May, June, August, October and November since 2000, and all the other months except January registered at least second-warmest or third-warmest in one or more years during that time. This year alone, the state saw its third-warmest May, third-warmest September and fifth-warmest November.
Between 1895 and 1970, the state’s mean annual temperature was 51.8 degrees. That rose to 52.7 degrees between 1971 and 2000 and the new “normal,” based on 1981 through 2010, is 53.2 degrees. That’s an increase of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or almost 1 degree Celsius, since record-keeping began.
Scientists report environmental consequences for rain, river flows, food yield and melting of polar ice begin with an increase of just 1 degree Celsius and will get worse, the warmer the planet gets.
New Jersey’s warming is part of a national and global trend. The National Centers for Environmental Information reported that the average temperature for September through November in the 48 contiguous states was a record 56.8 degrees, 3.3 degrees above the average for the last century. And the globally-averaged temperature over land and oceans last month was the highest for November since at least 1880, NCEI reported.
Although the Paris Climate Agreement allows for some additional global warming, President Obama said last Saturday that the accord could mark a turning point that will save the planet for future generations.
“It won’t be easy. Progress won’t always come quick. We cannot be complacent,” he said. “While our generation will see some of the benefits of building a clean energy economy … we may not live to see the full realization of our achievement. But that’s okay. What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation.”