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February 2017: Earth's 2nd Warmest February and 4th Warmest Month in Recorded History

By: Jeff Masters 4:07 PM GMT on March 17, 2017

February 2017 was the planet's second warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Friday; NASA also rated February 2017 as the second warmest February on record. The only warmer February was just last year, in 2016. Remarkably, February 2017 ranked as the fourth warmest month (expressed as the departure of temperature from average) of any month in the global historical record in the NASA database, and was the seventh warmest month in NOAA’s database—despite coming just one month after the end of a 5-month long La Niña event, which acted to cool the globe slightly. The extreme warmth of January 2017 (tenth warmest month of any month in NASA’s database) and February 2017 (fourth warmest) gives 2017 a shot at becoming Earth’s fourth consecutive warmest year on record, if a moderate or stronger El Niño event were to develop by summer, as some models are predicting.

With the exception of last month, the top five warmest months on record since 1880 (expressed as departure from the 1951 - 1980 average) in the NASA database all occurred during the strong El Niño event of 2015 - 2016, which worked to raise global air temperatures by exporting heat from the oceans:

February 2016, 1.32°C above average
March 2016, 1.28°C above average
January 2016, 1.13°C above average
February 2017, 1.10°C above average
December 2015, 1.10°C above average

Global ocean temperatures last month were the second warmest on record for any February, as were global land temperatures. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the fourth warmest for any February in the 39-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH).

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for February 2017, the 2nd warmest February for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions were present across much of the world's land surfaces, with the most notable warm temperature departures from average (3°C–5°C above the 1981–2010 average) across much of the contiguous U.S., southeastern Canada, and across much of central and eastern Russia. Record warmth was observed over parts of the eastern contiguous United States and northern and southern Mexico. Image credit: National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

No billion-dollar weather disasters in February 2017; one so far in 2017
No billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the February 2017 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield. However, a destructive tornado outbreak in the southern U.S. on January 21 - 23 accumulated enough damage claims to be rated a billion dollar weather-related disaster ($1.3 billion in damage) by the end of February, the only billion-dollar weather disaster on Earth during January - February 2017. The deadliest weather-related disaster of February was the rainy season flooding in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, which killed at least 246 people and cost over $100 million.

Figure 2. The only billion dollar weather-related disaster on Earth during January - February of 2017 was a destructive tornado outbreak in the southern U.S. on January 21 - 23 that killed 21 people and did $1.3 billion in damage. At least 79 tornadoes touched down between January 21 - 23, with three of them being rated EF3. These three EF3s were responsible for 20 of the 21 deaths in the outbreak. The deadliest tornado hit Adel, Georgia, killing 11 people. In this image, we see the William Carey University's School of Business on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, after it was damaged by a pre-dawn EF3 tornado that moved through Hattiesburg, MS, killing 4 people. Image credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis.

El Niño on its way?
In its early March monthly advisory, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) stated that neither El Niño nor La Niña conditions were present in the Eastern Pacific, and sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) were near average. SSTs of 0.5°C or more above average in this region are required to be classified as weak El Niño conditions. NOAA forecasters estimate an approximately 75% chance of neutral conditions lasting through the spring, with increasing chances of an El Niño after June (50 - 55% chance.) The latest Australian Bureau of Meteorology models are more aggressive about predicting El Niño, showing El Niño conditions by April (using NOAA's SST benchmark), and the latest June-July-August run of the UKMET model predicted a moderate El Niño this summer. However, predictions made in March of El Niño are of low skill, due to the so-called “spring predictability barrier”, and we should have lower-than-usual confidence in these forecasts. The GFS model is currently not predicting any “westerly wind bursts” of surface winds in the Western Pacific that would help along the development of El Niño during the next two weeks. El Niño conditions tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity by bringing strong upper-level winds to the tropical Atlantic, creating high wind shear that tears storms apart.

Figure 3. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) have been a few tenths of a degree above average since mid-February; SSTs of 0.5°C or more above average in this region are required to be classified as weak El Niño conditions. Image credit: Levi Cowan, tropicaltidbits.com.

Arctic and Antarctic sea ice falls to lowest February extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during February 2017 was the lowest in the 39-year satellite record, beating the record set in February 2016, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The record low ice extent was due, in large part, to very warm air temperatures in the Arctic—temperatures at the 925 mb level (approximately 2,500 feet above sea level) were 2 - 5 degrees Celsius (4 - 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Arctic Ocean during February.

Sea ice has been exceptionally scant on the other end of the globe. Antarctic sea ice extent dropped below the lowest values recorded in any month in the satellite record by mid-February. They continued to sag until reaching a new record-low extent in early March.

Aging satellites for monitoring Arctic sea ice bring concern
In their March 6 monthly update, NSIDC sounded the alarm about a looming satellite gap that threatens the continuity of the 39-year satellite record of sea ice extent. After the 2016 failure of the F19 polar-orbiting satellite, there are just three satellites remaining that perform sea ice extent monitoring. These are the American F18 and F16 satellites, which are operating 2 and 8 years beyond their designed 5-year lifetimes, respectively, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2), which will reach its 5-year design lifetime in May 2017. It is unlikely that a new sea ice extent monitoring satellite will be launched before 2022.

Notable global heat and cold marks set for February 2017
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 42.5°C (108.5°F) at Matam, Senegal, 27 February
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -58.0°C (-72.4°F) at Delyankir, Russia, 2 February
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.2°C (118.8°F) at Tarcoola, Australia, 9 February
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -58.8°C (-73.8°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, 28 February
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in February 2017
Kish Island (Iran) min. 7.6°C, 3 February
Jabel Jais (United Arab Emirates) min. -5.4°C,  3 February: New national record low for the United Arab Emirates (for uninhabited places)
Abu Samra (Qatar) min. 1.5°C,  5 February: New national record low for Qatar
Tromelin Island (French Southern Territories, France) max. 34.9°C,  8 and 10 February
Cilaos (Reunion Island, France) max. 30.5°C,  10 February
Oberon (Australia) max. 36.2°C,  10 February
Hillston (Australia) max. 46.1°C,  10 February increased to 47.2°C on 11 February
Applethorpe (Australia) max. 39.7°C,  11 February
Warwick (Australia) max. 42.2°C,  11 February
Wyalong (Australia) max. 46.3°C,  11 February
Peak Hill (NSW) (Australia) max. 46.0°C,  11 February
Condobolin (Australia) max. 46.9°C,  11 February
Nyngan (Australia) max. 47.4°C,  11 February
Guyra (Australia) max. 35.1°C,  11 February
Williamtown (Australia) max. 45.5°C,  11 February
Paterson (Australia) max. 47.0°C,  11 February
Cessnock (Australia) max. 46.8°C,  11 February
Singleton (Australia) max. 47.2°C,  11 February
Gulgong (Australia) max. 43.5°C,  11 February
Mudgee (Australia) max. 43.9°C,  11 February
Bathurst (Australia) max. 41.5°C,  11 February
Bathurst Airport (Australia) max. 42.1°C,  11 February
Katoomba (Australia) max. 37.7°C,  11 February
Orange (Australia) max. 40.1°C,  11 February
Dunedoo (Australia) max. 45.4°C,  11 February
Wellington (Australia) max. 45.0°C,  11 February
Parkes (Australia) max. 45.9°C,  11 February
Forbes (Australia) max. 46.7°C,  11 February
Dubbo (Australia) max. 46.1°C,  11 February
Goulburn (Australia) max. 41.2°C,  11 February
Young (Australia) max. 43.0°C,  11 February
Oakey (Australia) max. 42.1°C,  11 February, increased to 42.8°C on 12 February
Toowoomba (Australia) max. 39.5°C,  11 February, increased to 40.8°C on 12 February
Tenterfield (Australia) max. 38.9°C,  11 February, increased to 39.9°C on 12 February
Murrurundi (Australia) max. 42.0°C,  11 February, increased to 42.2°C on 12 February
Scone (Australia) max. 45.7°C,  11 February, increased to 46.5°C on 12 February
Gatton (Australia) max. 45.7°C,  12 February
Kingaroy (Australia) max. 41.6°C,  12 February
Injune (Australia) max. 44.2°C,  12 February
Tamworth (Australia) max. 45.9°C,  12 February
Armidale (Australia) max. 37.6°C,  12 February
Grafton (Australia) max. 46.3°C,  12 February
Casino (Australia) max. 45.7°C,  12 February
Kempsey (Australia) max. 46.7°C,  12 February
Yarras (Australia) max. 43.2°C,  12 February
Port Macquarie (Australia) max. 46.6°C,  12 February
Taree (Australia) max. 45.7°C,  12 February
Mangalore (India) max. 38.7°C,  15 February
Cocos Island Airport (Cocos Islands, Australia) max. 32.9°C,  23 February: New Territorial record high for Cocos Islands
Tacna Airport (Peru) max. 33.2°C,  26 February

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

One all-time national heat record and two all-time national cold records set in February 2017
One territory set an all-time record for hottest temperature in recorded history in February 2017: Australia’s Cocos Islands. Two nations set all-time national cold records last month: United Arab Emirates (for an uninhabited place), and Qatar. Most nations do not maintain official databases of extreme temperature records, so the national temperature records reported here are in many cases not official. I use as my source for international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, one of the world's top climatologists, who maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records. So far in 2017, we have two all-time national heat records and two all-time national cold records.

All-time national heat records set in 2017:
Chile: 113°F (45.0°C), 26 January
Cocos Islands: (Australia): 91.2°F (32.9°C),  23 February

All-time national cold records set in 2017:
United Arab Emirates: Jabel Jais, 22.3°F (-5.4°C),  3 February
Qatar: Abu Samra, 34.7°F (1.5°C),  5 February

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.