In North America, those local impacts included epically bad summer heat, even for typically cool regions. In late June and early July, the Pacific Northwestern US and Western Canada struggled with record-smashing temperatures that buckled roads and melted power cables. In the desert further south, California’s Death Valley reached a blazing 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) in July, potentially breaking the world record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet — for the second year in a row. Across the Atlantic, Europe experienced sweltering heat, too. A reading of 119.8 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) in Sicily might have broken the European record for maximum temperature. (The World Meteorological Organization is still working to vet those records.) All told, July 2021 was the hottest month humans have ever recorded, according to NOAA.
Heat trapped in the world’s oceans also reached record levels in 2021, according to research published this week. Ocean heatwaves are likely twice as common now as they were in the early 1980s, and they can be devastating for marine life and coastal communities. They kill coral, take a toll on fishing and crabbing industries, and can even make droughts worse onshore. Temperatures might have been even hotter in 2021, were it not for a La Nina event. La Nina is a recurring climate phenomenon defined by cooler-than-average waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific, which has predictable effects on weather patterns worldwide.
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