According to two separate government agencies, 2016 was the hottest year since scientists started keeping records of this stuff back in 1880. Earth's temperature broke the previous record set in 2015, which, in turn, set the record the year before.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released their independent reports Wednesday, saying that 2016 was hotter than any previous year—though, because of differing methodologies, they disagreed on how much.
NOAA found that average surface temperature of the land and oceans was 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit, .07 degrees warmer than 2015 and 1.69 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. NASA, on the other hand, said 2016 was .22 degrees warmer, and noted that 16 of the 17 warmest years on earth have occurred since 2001. The agencies use different methods to calculate the rapid warming of the Arctic, which explains the deviation, but the general takeaway is the same: the future is going to be warmer, wetter, and more dangerous.
Coincidentally, the reports come on the same day that President-elect Trump's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, climate change denier Scott Pruitt, had his Senate confirmation hearing. After Friday's inauguration, Trump, who has called global warming a "hoax" that he believes is perpetuated by the Chinese, will not only oversee the EPA, but also the NOAA and NASA. Both agencies are scheduled to explain the findings to the new administration after January 20.
Those who do not believe in the established science of climate change will likely point to El Niño—a cyclical warming pattern in the Pacific Ocean that occurred in 2016—as the cause for the record temperatures. The scientists responsible point out that El Niño is a factor, but in addition to man-made global warming. Today's temperatures far surpass those of 1998, another El Niño year that was, at the time, the hottest on record.
In the United States, it was only the second hottest year on record everywhere except Alaska, which had its hottest year ever. This underscores that the Arctic is heating up faster than the rest of the Earth, which is a particular danger, especially for the people who are living there.