California had its driest year on record. Greenland and Ghana had their highest ever temperatures recorded. Australia had its warmest year. 2013 had plenty of weather extremes, as you can see from this map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There was also exceptionally hot weather in Russia, Japan, and South Korea.
Globally-speaking, 2013 tied 2003 as the fourth warmest year since records began in 1880. 2013 was the 37th consecutive year of global temperatures above average. So, if you entered the world after 1976, you’ve only known global weather that’s warmer than the mean.
On the other hand, last year wasn’t the most extreme weather-wise, not compared to recent times. A separate report by Munich Re, a major insurance group, noted that there were no biblical-scale catastrophes, though there were hundreds of smaller ones. Overall, 20,000 people lost their lives in weather-related disasters, with Supertyphoon Haiyan–the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall–accounting for the most fatalities. Losses from natural events totaled $125 billion, which was below the average level of the last 10 years.
It’s tempting to imagine that climate change might be abating, or that the variability is somehow indicative that the theory is a dud. That’s wrong, of course. Climate scientists have always said to expect to fluctuations. What matters is the long-term trends, and they all show a worsening picture. Every one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998, with the warmest ever in 2010. At the same time, the annual number of “loss events”–which includes serious storms and tsunamis–has doubled since the 1980s, according to Munich Re, which has long called for more spending on resilience spending. Better hold on to your hats.