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Last year was the third-warmest on record in Massachusetts

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Data analyzed at the Climate System Research Center at UMass Amherst found 2021 was the third-warmest on record in the Northeast.

Data confirms trend to warmer, wetter conditions

The news on climate change in the Northeast was not good in 2021.

Massachusetts had its third-warmest and ninth-wettest year on record. All other Northeast states landed in the top five when it came to highest average annual temperature, according to the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Michael Rawlins, the center’s associate director.

Michael Rawlins

The data for 2021 confirm that we remain on a trajectory toward a dangerous interference and disruption to our climate. Massachusetts, the average temperature for 2021 was third warmest on record. And for Western Massachusetts, the counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hamden was tied for second warmest on record. It was also the ninth wettest year on record for the state of Massachusetts. So yeah, warm and wet and continued continuing on the trend that we've seen in recent decades, temperatures in Massachusetts have increased by about three degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century. And with steadily increasing temperatures you're gonna see regularly record or near record record breaking temperatures.

Paul Tuthill 

And was in nearly every area of the Northeast? Did every state have a warm and wet summer?

Michael Rawlins

For the year, all the states in the Northeast us were either warmest, second, or third warmest on record. So this was pretty much ubiquitous across the Northeast, when you're looking at something like an annual average for temperature you're going to see warming broadly across regions. It was also I might add, for the Northeast us, it was a top three warmest year, and also the contiguous us it was also very warm for the year. So part and parcel of what we've been seeing in recent decades.

Paul Tuthill 

And so the data is not a surprise to you?

Michael Rawlins

When we see these increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, I believe it was just announced yesterday that we saw a surge in greenhouse gas emissions last year. And of course, that's coming on the heels of the pandemic, and a slight drop in 2020. But with the atmosphere of greenhouse gas concentrations being at the highest level we've seen in 1000s of years, you're going to see this warm now, weather variability plays a role. So when we see well, for example, right now in the Pacific Ocean, there's a lot Nino going on over the past several months. So typically, for global average temperatures, they tend to be slightly cooler during a loggia versus an El Nino. So the fact that we are this warm at the state level at the regional northeast and for the contiguous us or the US average, to see that during alarming years, pretty, pretty important. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see even warmer temperatures and record breaking across the board during the next El Nino event.

Paul Tuthill 

Is it possible still to reverse these trends?

Michael Rawlins

Well, the science does suggest that once we reach peak emissions globally, and emissions levels start to come down and greenhouse gas concentrations start to decrease, that the warming will abate and begin to cool. So we're pretty confident that once we get a handle on our emissions, and we start to enact policies that will speed up the transition to clean energy, that we will see temperatures respond fairly quickly. Now, of course, sea level rise will continue because there's a lot of melt in Antarctica and Greenland baked into the system, if you will. So sea level will likely continue to increase for centuries. But we believe that temperatures will abate a bit, if you will, once atmospheric concentrations begin to level off and then decline

Paul Tuthill 

As someone who looks at this data and analyzes it, what are you looking for in the near term here to indicate whether you know whether any progress is is being made?

Michael Rawlins

Right now, we're on a trajectory that kind of matches our long term trend. We have wiggles ups and downs, a slightly cooler slightly warmer here, but the temperatures are going up. What I'm looking for in the emissions data is we're looking to see the emissions start to come down. Now in the US. They are they have been declining slightly for for about 10 years or so. globally. Now we have other countries that are continuing to pump greenhouse gases, gases into the atmosphere. And so we're really looking for the for the data for the emissions data and for policies that will reduce these greenhouse gas emissions but I would expect in the absence of May or legislation and major policies that will limit our use of fossil fuels that will continue to see these temperatures increase. I should also add that as far as the temperatures last year, the minimum temperatures were slightly more, let's say the rankings were higher compared to the average temperatures. So the minimum temperatures for the state of Massachusetts, the minimum temperature average ranked second for 2021. And for Western Massachusetts, for the average minimum temperature over the year was tied for first warmest on record. And these increases in minimum temperatures are consistent with our warming of the climate and the increases in atmospheric moisture content. So that's really an interesting aspect. And of course, in the summer, we know when these minimum temperatures are really high, it makes it hard to cool off in the summer, or to the daytime heating. So we're keeping an eye on the minimum temperatures. They have been increasing at a rate faster than daytime maximum temperatures, and that's consistent with our understanding of manifestations of increasing warming and atmospheric moisture content.