Record warm & record wet: 2020 in North Carolina shows signs of climate change


(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – “None of these things surprise me anymore. We’ve been breaking temperature records left and right.” This is the sentiment right now from many in the weather and climate community.

And 2020 takes the cake. In 2020, North Carolina saw its 3rd warmest and 2nd wettest year on record – the first time both rank top 5 together.

2020 in North Carolina was 17 inches above normal, and just 2 inches shy of the top spot — the year that brought us Florence! And most remarkably, this year we didn’t have a Florence. Instead, we had 8 different tropical remnant systems and Isaias that made landfall along the coast.

State climatologist Dr. Kathie Dello remembers watching the numbers continue to inch closer to the all-time record. “It’s exactly what climate change looks like, we’re seeing more of these 3-inch events and honestly those started to feel a little bit normal this year because we had so many of them.”

And it is becoming more normal. In Charlotte, 1 and 2 inch downpour days are increasing at a much faster rate than days with just a half-inch of rain.

7 of the top 10 warmest years in North Carolina have all come since 2007 and nighttime temperatures hit records for 6th year straight. “If you have to try to sleep in conditions where you don’t have cooling, it can be fatal. We know that heat is the number one weather-related killer and that’s both daytime and nighttime,” explains Dr. Dello.

In Charlotte, we see at least 5 more nights that sit above 65 degrees, increasing our cooling demand significantly since 1970. “We’re outpacing daily heat records, nighttime heat records, more than daily cold records,” explains Dr. Dello.

And we’re seeing this nationwide. 2020 was the 5th hottest year on record in the U.S. This fueled an unprecedented 22 separate billion-dollar disasters in 2020 alone, costing us 95 billion dollars. Globally, 2020 was the 2nd hottest year on record — all top 10 years have come since 2005.

“I want to figure out a better way to serve the communities that are most hit by climate change. And I’m optimistic that things can get better and will get better, I have to be otherwise I don’t get up and come to work. There’s still time…but we’re running out it,” reflects Dr. Dello.

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