Climate in 2022: Extreme heat, drought, floods fueled by warming planet

The past year brought extreme heatwaves, drought, and devastating flooding that was fueled by a warming planet, experts say — as world leaders issued urgent warnings to address the "existential threat" of the climate crisis

By October, the U.S. had experienced 15 major weather disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion in damage each, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

March set the record for most tornado reports in one month at 249. Over the summer, six "1-in-1,000-year" rainfall events occurred, causing devastating flooding in areas like St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, and California’s Death Valley.

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Aerial view of homes submerged under flood waters from the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky, on July 28, 2022. -(Photo by LEANDRO LOZADA/AFP via Getty Images)

In June, historic flooding from torrential rain and rapid snowmelt also forced the National Park Service to evacuate and close all entrances to Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone River, the longest free-flowing river in the United States, reached record levels that hadn’t been seen in more than 100 years

Persistent heat waves set record temperatures and spawned wildfires in the western U.S. As of Dec. 23, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed nearly 44% of the West in severe drought or worse

Concern continued over the shrinking Colorado River, which provides drinking water to 40 million people, irrigation for millions of acres of agriculture, and hydropower in the U.S. Southwest.

The Colorado pools behind Hoover Dam to create the Lake Mead reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona state line and Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, on the Arizona-Utah line. Lake Mead was at 100% capacity in mid-1999. Today it is 28% full. Lake Powell, which was last full in June 1980, is at 25%.

Hurricanes Ian and Fiona in the fall brought catastrophic storm surges and heavy rainfall to Florida and across Puerto Rico. Ian, specifically, was expected to rank among the top 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history

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FILE - A motorcyclist rides past debris piled up from a destroyed home after the passage of Hurricane Ian on Matlacha Island in Lee County, Florida on Nov. 7, 2022. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

"Rising global temperatures have contributed to more frequent and severe extreme weather events around the world, including cold and heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires and storms," a provisional "State of the Global Climate 2022" report, released in November by the World Meteorological Organization, says. 

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For the period between January to November 2022, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 55.2 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.5 degrees above average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This ranks as the 17th warmest period in the 128-year record. 

Temperatures were above average from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast and from the Gulf to New England, NOAA said. California and Florida each ranked fifth-warmest in 2022, while Massachusetts and Rhode Island each had their sixth-warmest January-November period on record. 

Five other states ranked among their warmest 10 year-to-date periods on record, NOAA said. Temperatures were near-average from the northern Plains and Upper Midwest to the Tennessee Valley.

Elsewhere, climate disasters hit hard too. Europe suffered an exceptionally dry and hot year that also led to explosive wildfires, damaged crop yields, and water restrictions. From Afghanistan to Central America, droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather events hit millions of people — many of whom were the least equipped to recover and adapt.

99% chance 2022 will rank among 10 warmest years on record

Year-to-date, the global surface temperature was the sixth-warmest on record, according to data shared by NOAA. The agency’s NCEI predicted a "greater than 99% chance that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record." 

Real-time data indicate that global greenhouse gas emissions also continued to increase in 2022, according to the provisional "State of the Global Climate 2022" report.

"As greenhouse gas concentrations rise, so does global mean surface temperature," the report states. "Despite La Niña conditions keeping the global temperature low for the second consecutive year, 2022 is still likely to be 5th or 6th warmest year on record."

The global climate report details how ocean temperatures are rising, as well as the sea level — which has risen around 10 millimeters since January 2020. 

"While this may not sound significant, it is nearly 10% of rise since 1993 in less than 2 years, despite the ongoing La Niña," the report says. 

In February, the Antarctic sea-ice extent measurement dropped to the lowest level on record, the report says. 

UN chief calls for credible climate action

In mid-December, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that he plans to convene a "Climate Action Summit" in 2023 to accelerate an urgent response. 

He said the "non-negotiable" price of entry to the summit for leaders from governments, businesses, cities, regions, civil society, and finance, will be "new, credible climate action to accelerate the pace of change."

"No exceptions. No compromises," Guterres told a year-end news conference on Dec. 19. "There will be no room for back-sliders, green-washers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years."

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This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.