The news: April might have seemed rather mild in the U.S., with most areas experiencing a much-needed spell of seasonally near-average temperatures compared to every year from 1895 to 2014. But America's relatively cool spring season looks atypical compared to NASA data which shows that this April was the second-warmest recorded in global history.
It was also the 350th month in a row — more than 29 years — with above-average global temperatures compared to the previous baseline period of 1951–1980.
The planet's average temperature was 58.5 degrees, 1.3 degrees above the previous period, and exceeded only by April 2010 as the hottest April on record. Europe and Asia saw particularly hot months. Notably, much of the U.S. was also hotter than average, with an ongoing drought in California and Arizona coinciding with their warmest January-to-April season ever recorded.
But I thought it was cold! Right, but the contiguous U.S. covers just a small portion of the globe. Americans relying on their local weather report to prognosticate on global climate change might do well to compare this map of U.S. temperatures...
...to this one:
Basically, the globe is still heating up and it's doing so quickly. America's cool weather might not even last through the summer. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist Jake Crouch points out that "[e]ven though the start to this year was cold, that long-term warming trend is there. [...] This regional coldness isn't representative of what's been happening globally. [Early temperatures in the U.S.] don't necessarily reflect what will happen later in the year."
If an El Niño event develops this summer or in the early fall, as researchers predict it is almost 80% likely to do, it could trigger a rise in global temperatures to record levels this year or in 2015.
NASA's trend since the year 1900 shows that the November-to-April season has been warming significantly over the past hundred years, with almost no place on the entire globe not experiencing some warming. The pace is rapidly speeding up.
As Think Progress notes, "April 2014 also marked the first month in human history when average carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached above 400 parts per million."
What does this mean for you? Basically, the scientific evidence is quite clear that global temperatures are projected to keep increasing, given that industrialization keeps pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. The effects haven't hit every American directly yet, but they are widespread, to the extent that federal policymakers have taken notice while others are being forced to acknowledge it.
There's still time to scramble and prevent an already-bad situation from getting worse. But a lot of damage has already been done, meaning that preparedness for extreme weather events and higher temperatures is quickly becoming as high a priority as avoiding them. And while this April may have been nice for some of the United States, it looks pretty clear we're heading for a hotter century overall.