2018 Was The Fourth-Hottest Year On Record And The Trend Is Set To Continue


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor


Four of the last five years have been the warmest since records began. Here, higher than normal temperatures are shown in red. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

We’ve known this is coming, but the latest annual report from NASA and NOAA has confirmed it: 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record. The other four in the top 5 have all been in the last five years. And it’s set to get warmer.

2018, it turns out, broke quite a few records, none of them good.


Not content with being the fourth-hottest year since 1880, when it first became possible to collect reliable and consistent global temperatures, in the US 2018 was the wettest year in 35 years and the third wettest since precipitation records began in 1895. The top three costliest natural disasters globally were all in the US, making it their fourth-costliest year ever, at $160 billion.

And of course, it’s predicted to get worse.

Australia has already broken its January temperature record, and with a possible El Niño event around the corner, 2019 is likely to follow this trend.

NASA and NOAA’s Annual Global Analysis for 2018, released yesterday having been delayed by the government shutdown, is backed up by independent reports from the UK’s Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the United Nations, so is pretty hard to argue against (though we are sure some will try).

Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest. NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

2018 follows 2016, 2015, and 2017 as the fourth-warmest year, with global temperatures 0.83°C (1.5°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 period mean. Not only does this make the last five years the warmest in the modern record, but nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005, and 2018 is the 42nd consecutive year that global land and ocean temperatures are above the 20th-century average.

Since 1880, the global surface temperature has risen by 1°C (2°F), driven mainly by emissions from greenhouse gases and CO2 – something we know we can mitigate with international cooperation, as demonstrated by the hole in the ozone layer getting smaller.


If the health and wellbeing of the world aren’t enough motivation, NOAA’s analysis reveals in the US 2018 ranked fourth-highest on record for both number of weather and climate-related disasters and price (behind 2017, 2011, and 2016), with 14 disasters breaching $1 billion. In the past three years, the average number of billion-dollar disasters is more than double the long-term average.


The overwhelming evidence that the world is experiencing a long-term warming trend should make it a top priority for the world’s leaders, particularly, the MET Office's findings warn, as the trend is set to continue, potentially making the decade from 2014-2023 the warmest in 150 years, breaking some new records along the way.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10 percent chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C,” Dr Doug Smith of the Met Office said.

The data is rather hard to argue with. NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

However, this does not mean that we will have exceeded the 1.5°C (2.7°F) threshold the recent IPCC climate report warned is the new now-or-never, and that all hope is lost.

“Exceeding 1.5°C in one specific year does not mean that we have missed the 1.5°C target, but it does ring an alarm bell telling us that we are getting very close,” Dr Joeri Rogelj, Lecturer in Climate Change and Environment at Imperial College London, explained. “In a similar way, if a few colder years would be projected this does not mean that warming has halted and that we can emit much more greenhouse gases. The noise in the annual temperatures should not distract from the long-term trend."


The message is clear: we can see what's coming and we need to act now. If you are feeling overwhelmed and questioning what difference you as an individual can make, remember, the world needs to be on the same page, and that means its leaders working together, and that is something you can influence.