FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Only a few days into 2023, we had our first high temperature record of the year when a high of 62° was recorded on January 3. Only time will tell how many more records will fall this year, but what we can report is that, over the past 5 decades, dating back to the 1970s, the percentage of days with record heat has been increasing and the number of days with record cold has been decreasing.

It only took a few days to have our first high temperature record of the year in 2023.

With more warmth, and less cold, our local ecosystem is affected.

Indiana State Climatologist Beth Hall tells WANE 15, “As far as wintertime high temperature records, which we are, also, still seeing, the concern there is actually happening more in the low temperatures. If our low temperatures are actually getting warmer and warmer, than that means that some of these pests that we look forward to dying off every year, whether it be Japanese beetles, or the brown marmorated stinkbugs that all of us have probably been seeing in our homes, or any other agricultural pest. Historically, when it’s gotten really cold, it can get deep into the soils and kill off those pests. But, if we’re breaking records in the high temperature areas and really not breaking temperatures as far as how cold it’s getting, that’s an agricultural risk.”

Over the course of January, Fort Wayne did not set any record high low temperatures. However, there was a lot of nighttime winter warmth. Sixteen of January’s 31 days had low temps in the 30s and 40s. Two days had a low temp of 45°. Our average low temps during January range from 18°-21° with average highs ranging from 32°-34°. Eight days had low temperatures above 35°.

Of course, just looking at one month, does not give us an overall picture of warming. However, when we look at the average temperatures over the course of the past 5 decades, we see the Fort Wayne average decadal temp has risen from between 49° and 50° in the 1970s to between 51° and 52° in the 2010s.

The average decadal temperature in Fort Wayne increased by about 2° from the 1970s to the 2010s. (Image credit: Climate Central)

While a two degree increase in these temperatures does not sound like much, the Climate Central researchers remind us that a small change in average results in a big change in extremes.

Just a slight increase in global average temperatures, results in a big change in the temperature extremes we experience on Earth. (Image credit: Climate Central)

In an article dated December 14, 2022, the Climate Central author writes, “The risks for people, economies, and ecosystems across the planet rise with every fraction of a degree of average global warming.”

The increase in record warmth is not just limited to Fort Wayne. Climate Central notes in its research that:

  • In the 2010s, 96% of 247 locations set more heat records than cold records. A century prior, during the 1910s, 54% of locations set more heat records than cold records. 
  • From January 2020 through November 2022, 91% of 245 locations had more record heat than record cold. 
  • Over the same period, 25 locations across the U.S. only set records for heat (none for cold). Tampa, Fla. had the greatest imbalance (setting 76 heat records and no cold records)—followed by Miami, Fla. (52 heat records), Phoenix, Ariz. (47), Reno, Nev. (45), and San Francisco, Calif. (36). 
Heat records have outnumbered cold records during the most recent decades. (Image credit: Climate Central)

When looking at Fort Wayne’s “Records Set by Decade” graph, you may wonder why, after the 1960s, the amount of high temperature records started to increase and the amount of low temperature records started to decrease.

According to Hall, “We know that the Industrial Era started in the late 1800s and that’s when we see, certainly, these regular consistent increases in carbon dioxide, one of our most common greenhouse gases. But, with this Industrial Era came a lot of pollution and that we really see in our atmosphere as smog. So, as the Industrial Era was going from decade to decade, what was happening is we were increasing the amount of smog in our atmosphere and that smog was, essentially, blocking out sunlight [causing a natural cooling].

In the 1970s, with the Clean Air Act and others, the new rules really cracked down on the amount of pollution going into the atmosphere. The cleaner air allowed for more sun and it helped us to warm things up.

Hall finished by saying, “I often joke, well, if we want to cool temperatures, I guess we can pollute, again, but, then, our health is at greater risk and I don’t think anyone liked the smoggy pictures that we see from those decades.”