Record Warmth in 2020 – How Northern Michigan Has Changed

UPDATE – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has confirmed 2020 has “effectively” tied 2016 for the WARMEST year on record globally.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluates similar data and has found through data analysis that 2020 was 2nd warmest, just shy of tying the warmest year on record. with 2016. 

That being said, the biggest takeaway is the earth has been warming globally most rapidly in recent decades. Global circulations like El Niño and La Niña can play a role in aiding in warmth, but is not the main driver of a rapidly changing climate.

Notice below that the shades across the globe are yellow to red. This proves warmer than average temperatures for majority of the globe. Another takeaway is the greatest warming is occurring at the north pole causing glaciers to melt and surface ice to decrease at the north pole.

Global Temp 2020

Global Hottest Years 2020

According to NASA and Climate Central, the global temperature has risen over 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800’s. Temperatures have risen rapidly since the late 1900’s.

Global Departure 2020

Not only was the globe warm, but so was the United States. 2020 was the 5th warmest year on record in terms of the temperature across the United States. It comes behind 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It is also worth noting 6 of the top 10 hottest years on record all have been after 2000.

It is important to note when looking at these numbers what it all means. So I am going to break it down for you.

The temperature represented in the data is the mean temperature of the United States. The mean temperature is calculated using BOTH High and Low temperatures and averaged in a given day. So you may not notice it during the day that temps are “warmer” than average, but overnight lows can bring that average up.


Let’s show an example: 

Friday January 9th, Traverse City

High: 28 

Difference from Average High: +7

Low: 16

Difference from Average Low: -1

Mean: 22

Difference from Average Mean: +3


Traverse City was +3 degrees warmer than normal FOR ONE DAY. There were many days in 2020 that saw numbers similar to this, not only within the United States but across Northern Michigan as well.

With a warmer atmosphere, Billion-Dollar Disasters are also on the increase. Of course, there is more infrastructure in spots, so we are more likely to see more damage. The severity of the BIG events has been on the increase for the past several years. 2020 leads the way in billion-dollar disasters.

Billion Dollar Disasters Line Graph 2020

2020 featured 22 billion-dollar disasters across the nation, including 6 Tropical Cyclones that battered the southeast states and the derecho that ruined crops in Iowa. This is incredible when you put the numbers into perspective. From 1980 to 2020 the average number of billion-dollar disasters, 7 events per year

Billion Dollar Disasters 2020

So how does this impact northern Michigan?

Winter temperatures are warming across northern Michigan. It is making an impact on your daily lives.

Traverse City – You have seen over a 5-degree increase in temperature since 1970. Temperatures cycle up and down (which can be seen while analyzing the graph). We notice an upward trend that is noted by the black line.

Avg Winter Temps Tc 2020

In addition to warmer temperatures, you are experiencing 17 more days with above-average warmth in Traverse City since 1970.

Winter Days Above Avg Tc 2020

The Northeast, Midwest, and Great Lakes are warming the quickest. The pattern change has lead to warmer temps, less storminess, more INTENSE Storms when they develop.

Winter Days Above Avg Us 2020

Just think about last year and this year’s winter so far. The Majority of the snow you have seen has generally been from bigger systems dumping several inches at a time.
Winter in 2021 is off to a warm start with below-average snowfall.

Snowfall To Date

Climo Seasonal New

Ice across the Great Lakes has also been thin. I know you were hoping to get out and start ice fishing, but many locations are not seeing thick enough ice at this point!

Ice Cover

To keep tabs on the winter pattern and the science by checking out our science explainers during the Four. You can also learn more by listening to the New Weather On the Go Podcast, and follow us on the web here! 

-Meteorologist Austin Lowe


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