Climate Assertions About "Recorded History," or "Hottest on Record" Potentially Misleading, Lacking Extensive Weather Records

It might sound dramatic to speak of temperatures that are the "hottest on record," or, even more misleading, the hottest in "recorded history."

But in reality, neither type of grandiose phraseology covers all that much history.

According to NASA, "there are too few data before 1880 for scientists to estimate average temperatures for the entire planet."

NASA cites the U.S. and British governments as having fairly complete temperature tracking records covering the period back to 1880.

NASA notes that some thermometer-based temperature records date back further, such as some British records dating to 1850 or the mid-1600's. But, as quoted above, there is too limited a range of data for time frames prior than 1880 to estimate planetary averages.

Some climate-related headlines, such as one from UPI, make misleading references to the "hottest month in recorded history," when actually they are covering reports addressing only the tiny fraction of recorded history for which there are more extensive temperature records.

In that case, the article was covering a report that referenced average temperatures "on record."

Actual "recorded history," history where information on various kinds of subjects has been written down, such as relating to wars, names of rulers, and historical events, has been estimated, by various sources, to date back roughly 5,500 years.

Yet, as a practical matter, the hottest average temperatures "on record" would only be since 1880, not since 5,500 years ago.

Recorded history, itself, of course, reaching back just over 5,000 years, is quite limited in its scope, even if it ever does reference the weather.

By comparison, the last ice age was over 20,000 years ago. Much further back, the entire planet was more tropical at times. Depending on whom one asks, the earth was definitely much warmer 50 million years ago, and 90 million years ago, when Antarctica had rain forests.

In the end, even if weather and climate variations today draw interest or concern, those variations are quite limited compared to broader spans of earth's history. Even the very limited "recorded history" is many times broader than the limited range of time for which more extensive temperature data is available.

The planet's overall history, of course, with much wider temperature variations, dates back so much further that it can be difficult for the human mind to envision.

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Key Words: Climate, Weather, Climate Change, Recorded History, History, Temperature Data

Artist's Depiction of Thermometer Showing High Termperatures, and Sun, adapted from .gov source