Strong storms and near-record warmth in NJ last year may point to future effects of climate change

This week, the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist (ONJSC) released its list of the ten most significant weather events of the last year. The convergence of large storms and unusually warm weather portends a future of climate change-spurred, serious weather events.

Unsurprisingly, Ida—then a post-tropical cyclone—topped the list, with the havoc it wreaked across the state. One-, two-, three- and six-hour total rainfalls exceeded 100-year levels in many areas of the state, with eight counties recording 8 or more inches of rain.

Ida was also the second most deadly weather event in recorded history, with 30 deaths. It trailed only Hurricane Sandy. Though communities from Hunterdon to Essex Counties (and beyond) faced surging rivers, broken roads and flash flooding, HIllsborough was hit the hardest, recording nearly 10 inches of rain and wind gusts over 50 miles per hour. The destruction will cost millions to repair, and millions more to upgrade infrastructure to prevent damage from future, similar events.

NJ also had the second most tornadoes in 2021 of any year since 1950. Many spun off from larger storm systems, with 13 recorded on a total of six days.

The NJOSC list also includes the long-lasting snowstorm in the beginning of 2021 that brought 10 inches or more of snow to 15 counties, with Morris County getting the most, in Mine Hill, with almost 33 inches. 

Now for all the wetness brought to the state from storms, November and December was the driest two-month period on record, bringing in only 2.33 inches of precipitation. Drought, elsewhere, also likely had an impact on New Jersey weather. The last entry on the top weather events list was hazy skies in July, caused by forest fires out West. That resulted in lower visibility and poor air quality in New Jersey and throughout the region.

Meanwhile, warmth, and its effects, were felt in myriad ways, as demonstrated on the list. According to the ONJSC, 2021 was the third or fourth warmest year in the last 127 years, with temperatures averaging 1.7 degrees more. Seventeen of the 20 warmest years in the last century-plus have occurred since 1998.

Furthermore, the state took a while to freeze—and at a historic level. Not since at least 1900 has the state gone without a freeze in October, somewhere in the state.

State climatologist Dave Robinson puts the warmth into context, writing, “The first two decades of the 21st century are proving to be far warmer than any such interval in the 20th century, and by a wide margin. It has become quite apparent that this warmth is due to what is commonly referred to as global warming caused by human influences on the atmosphere, oceans and landscape.” 

Robinson added that we should expect to see new records for warmth set and broken in future years, at least until we start to address the root causes of climate change, and how the climate reacts to whatever changes we do make.