February 2016 Global Land And Sea Temperatures: Sizzling

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REcord warmth was widespread in February. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

Record warmth was widespread in February. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA has released its latest month’s worldwide temperature analysis. Fueled by a record-breaking El Niño, February temperatures shattered all records.

The average combined land and sea temperature was 13.31C (56.08F), which is 1.21C (2.18F) above the 20th century average. This surpassed the old February record by an amazing .33C ( (.59F), and made the month the hottest ever, beating the record set in December, 2015 by .09C (.16F).

This was the tenth consecutive month with a new land and sea temperature record for that month. All of the six hottest months all-time have been the last six.

The land-only temperature soared to 2.31C (4.16F) above the 20th century average.

These numbers do not bode well for reaching the goals set by world leaders at the recent Paris climate summit: Restricting global temperature rise to 1.5C if possible; absolutely restricting temperature rise to 2C, the level that most atmospheric scientists believe would trigger catastrophic changes in the weather.

Many Parts Of The Earth Were Record Hot In February

Here are the places on our planet that reported the warmest or coldest February since 1880, the first year of reliable observations:

Record Warm:

  • Southeastern Europe
  • Western Siberia
  • The eastern tropical and northern subtropical Indian Ocean
  • The central tropical and northeastern subtropical Pacific Ocean
  • Southeast Asia, Indonesia, northern Australia, and adjacent waters
  • Scattered parts of South America and western Canada, Tasmania, part of the western North Atlantic Ocean, and part of the western North Pacific Ocean

Record cold:

  • A small portion of the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia

For the second month in a row, February was the hottest in each of the following categories: Northern hemisphere land, sea, and land and sea combined; southern hemisphere land, sea, and land and sea combined.

The first two months of 2016 were also the hottest in every category, as was the northern hemisphere winter (meteorological winter comprises the months of December, January, and February). No matter how you look at it, the Earth is hot and getting hotter at a rapid rate.

Arctic is Especially Warm

Arctic sea ice is disappearing. Photo courtesy of DMI.

Arctic sea ice extent was a record low for the month at under 5.5 million square miles. This compares to 6.3 million squares miles when satellites first began measurements in 1979. The Danish Meteorological Institute measures temperatures north of the 80th parallel, and recent measurements are startling.

Following the unprecedented Christmas warming of the North Pole, the first 80 days of 2016 have broken all records. No day during that time has been less than 4C (7F) above the long-term average. The mean temperature during that period has been 8C (14F) above average.

In view of these astonishing anomalies, it’s no surprise that the February sea ice extent was a new record low.

On the other side of the world, following three years of surprising increases in Antarctic sea ice extent, February was the second consecutive month below average — 9.5% below the long-term mean.

It is tempting to blame all of the Earth’s recent warming on El Niño — and no doubt the very warm water in the equatorial Pacific played a significant part. But Arctic sea ice actually expanded during the powerful El Niño of 1997-98. The current Arctic warming at a rate many times that of the rest of the planet may indicate that, at least in some parts of the Earth, a tipping point has already been reached.

The Prospect For El Niño

Most models predict a transition from El Nino to La Nina this summer. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

Most El Niños peak around the first of the year, and all indications are that this one has run out of steam.

Normally, a powerful El Niño is followed by a strong La Niña — typically by early fall.

Occasionally, however, El Niño reaches a second peak late in the year.

Most model forecasts predict a normal transition to a moderate to strong La Niña.

A Pacific Ocean cooler than normal (La Niña) could provide a window of opportunity for nations to meet their stated goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions before it is too late. But the February data put the goal of 1.5 C temperature rise pretty much out of reach (greenhouse gas emissions are still rising and are expected to continue to do so until at least 2020), and the drop-dead limit of 2C in serious jeopardy.

The Future Of The Earth’s Climate

Homo Sapiens often lives up to his name (wise man). He is ingenious at solving seemingly intractable problems. He is also a procrastinator — he frequently waits until a problem is nearly insurmountable to begin to tackle it. But there are forces of nature that no amount of engineering can overcome.

Seven billion human beings are playing with fire if they let the climate get out of control.

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