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Globe has 2nd or 6th warmest February on record; Fiji hard-hit by Tomas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 12:51 PM GMT on March 18, 2010

The globe recorded its sixth warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Climatic Data Center. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated February 2010 the second warmest, behind 1998. The year-to-date period, January - February, is the 5th or 2nd warmest such period on record, according to NOAA and NASA, respectively. NOAA rated February 2010 global ocean temperatures as the 2nd warmest on record, next to 1998. February land temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record, but in the Northern Hemisphere, they were the 26th warmest. The relatively cool Northern Hemisphere land temperatures were due in part to the much-above average amount of snow on the ground--February 2010 snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was the 3rd highest in the 44-year snow cover record. For the entire winter, the Northern Hemisphere had the 2nd greatest snow cover on record, the U.S. had its greatest snow cover, and Eurasia had its 4th most.

Figure 1. departure of surface temperature from average for the globe during February 2010. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the second warmest on record in February, according to both the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) groups. Both groups also rated the winter of 2009 - 2010 the 2nd warmest winter on record. The record warmest February and winter occurred 1998.

Moderate El Niño conditions continue
Moderate El Niño conditions continue over the tropical Eastern Pacific. Ocean temperatures in the area 5°N - 5°S, 120°W - 170°W, also called the "Niña 3.4 region", were at 1.2°C above average--in the middle of the 1.0°C - 1.5°C range for a moderate El Niño--on March 14, 2010, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The strength of El Niño has been roughly constant for all of February and the first two weeks of March. Anomalously strong westerly winds along the Equator that have helped maintain the current El Niño have weakened since March 1, but are probably strong enough to maintain the current moderate El Niño conditions through mid-April. Some slow weakening of El Niño is likely beginning in early April. It is highly uncertain what may happen to El Niño at that point, with the models split between predicting a weak El Niño, neutral conditions, or a La Niña by the height of hurricane season (August-September-October). It's worth noting that the last time we had a strong El Niño--the record-strength 1997 - 1998 event--El Niño conditions collapsed suddenly in May 1998, and a La Niña event rapidly developed during the summer of 1998. A similar chain of events is possible this year, as well. However, the El Niño of 1986 - 1987 maintained moderate strength through two consecutive hurricane seasons, and it is possible that this year's El Niño could pull a similar feat. We simply don't have the predictive skill to say what might happen to El Niño this summer.

February sea ice extent in the Arctic 4th lowest on record
February 2010 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the 4th lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979. Ice extent was lower than in 2009 and 2008, but greater than in 2005, 2006, and 2007, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The weather pattern over the Arctic during much of February 2010 featured a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation (AO). This pattern tends to slow the winds that typically flush large amounts of sea ice out of the Arctic between Greenland and Iceland. In this way, a negative AO could help retain some the second- and third-year ice through the winter, and potentially rebuild some of the older, multi-year ice that has been lost over the past few years.

Heavy damage on Fiji from Tropical Cyclone Tomas
Communications are still out to most of the islands in the Fiji devastated by Tropical Cyclone Tomas, but it is apparent that the Category 3 storm caused "overwhelming damage" to the islands that received a direct hit, according to the Associated Press. Tomas, packing winds of up to 130 mph (205 kph) at its center, hit Fiji beginning late Friday. The Lau and Lomaiviti island groups and the northern coast of the second biggest island, Vanua Levu, took the brunt of the storm. Only one death has been reported thus far. Initial reports said 1500 homes were destroyed or damaged and up to 50 percent of facilities in the Lau Group were affected.

I'll have a new post on Friday, when I plan to discuss why the Red River at Fargo, ND is now experiencing a "10-year flood" once every 2.5 years, on average.

Jeff Masters

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