Though we’re nearly two weeks into 2022, data continues to pour in reminding us just what was hot in 2021. The latest reminder: extreme ocean heat, which set a dubious record. But oceans were far from things trending hot in 2021, though. Before we shut the door completely on last year, we wanted to share a list of 10 undeniably hot 2021 keepsakes. Turn on a fan, things are about to get sweaty.
Last year marked the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history, which already sounds bad. But it’s made far worse by the fact that 2021 marked the sixth consecutive year a new record was set, showing how burning fossil fuels is impacting every corner of the planet. Marine heat can have deleterious effects on wildlife and fisheries while also feeding stronger storms. In the U.S. alone, those tropical storms resulted in $US78.5 ($108) billion in damage in 2021 and the loss of at least 159 lives.
Unfortunately, this trend of warming ocean water isn’t destined to let up any time soon. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on oceans released in 2019 found that “unprecedented conditions” are likely by mid-century as heat transforms the high seas.
Though it probably won’t surprise anyone that a place appropriately called “Death Valley” was toasty in the summer, this year was still a shocker for the magnitude of heat. Temperatures hit a mind-melting 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) in July, a mark that’s considered the hottest reliably recorded temperature on the planet.
Only two other temperature readings — 134-degree-Fahrenheit (56.7-degree-Celsius) reading in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and a 131-degree-Fahrenheit (55-degree-Celsius) measurement in Kebili, Tunisia, on July 7, 1931 — have ranked higher than this year’s scorcher, though weather historians have called those two readings into question.
The Pacific Northwest
Residents in Oregon and Washington experienced a heat wave like no other in history. Portland reached 45 degrees Celsius in late June, setting an all-time heat record. The city also recorded three consecutive days of above 100-degree weather, a first in recorded history. The blistering temperatures literally left roads warped and melted powerlines, showing infrastructure in normally temperate regions is simply not equipped to handle the new, hotter climate.
Portland had nothing on Salem, though, which hit 46.7 degrees Celsius days around the same time. For perspective, that’s just 0.6 degrees Celsius short of matching the all-time heat record for Las Vegas. A town did actually beat that record — in Canada. Lytton, British Columbia hit 49.6 degrees Celsius during the same heat wave, shattering Canada’s all-time hot temperature mark. Just a few days later, early the entire town burned down in a wildfire.
A 18-degree-Celsius day in December may actually sound pretty pleasant — until you find out that temperature was recorded in Alaska. That record temperature, recorded near Alaska’s Kodiak airport, was 5 degrees Celsius higher than the state’s previous December all-time high. Though the temperature on its own is shocking, it also meant precipitation fell as rain. A lot of it. The state had one of its heaviest two-day periods of rain on record, with up to 327 ml falling and overwhelming infrastructure.
The U.S. in December
It wasn’t just a few days in Alaska that were weirdly hot in December. Just about every state in the continental U.S. experienced higher than average temperatures, and preliminary data from weather stations across the country show that December 2021 was the hottest December on record. The month ended about 2.8 degrees Celsius above normal.
Some states were hotter than others. Texas, no stranger to short-sleeve New Years’ Eve parties, recorded its hottest December in 130 years. Last year also marked the first time Texas experienced a month with temperatures at least 5.5 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average.
The Middle East
Parts of the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Iran all experienced record temperatures just days before the official start of winter. In the UAE, temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius, an all-time high for November. Heat records in hot places feels very on-brand for 2021.
The Arctic Circle
But extreme heat also affected some of the coldest places on Earth. On the top of that list has to be parts of Siberia in the Arctic Circle, which recorded ground temperatures topping 48 degrees Celsius in June. Ground temperatures are generally higher than air temperatures since heat dissipates more easily in the latter.
Intense ground heat poses a unique risk because of the damage it can do to frozen soil known as permafrost. Once it melts, it can release carbon dioxide and methane, potent greenhouse gases that can lock in more warming. Hot ground temperatures also helped sustain fires in the region from spring into fall, which released a record amount of carbon dioxide.
Pretty Much Every American
If you lived in the U.S. in 2021, you were probably hot. (Interpret that how you will.) In the weather sense, there’s even data to prove it. Federal data analysed by The Washington Post found that 80% of U.S. residents lived in a county with at least one day of abnormally high temperatures in 2021. That statistic helps illustrate how the changes in climate aren’t limited to one outlier state or region. They’re everywhere.
Despair-inducing climate events weren’t the only hot items of 2021. A true list of scorching hot 2021 items really wouldn’t be complete without shouting out birria de res, or simply birria tacos. They’ve been transformed from a humble Mexican staple to an international sensation over the past few years, but 2021 was really the year of birria.
In New York City, residents could hardly make it a full subway stop without passing what seemed like a new restaurant or food truck serving up the soupy treats. Eager eaters spent hours in line in 2021, waiting to get the goods from well-known birria trucks.
The sloppy sensation wasn’t just limited to New York either. Google’s own data shows birria tacos were the most-searched food item of 2021. It’s great that people got their fill of birria even if it doesn’t exactly bode well for the climate.