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March 2015: Another Warmest Month on Record for the Planet

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:15 PM GMT on April 17, 2015

March 2015 was Earth's warmest March since global record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Friday. NASA rated March 2015 as the 3rd warmest March on record (small differences in analysis techniques can lead to slightly different rankings from agency to agency, and the two estimates were quite close to each other.) March 2015's warmth makes the year to date period (January - March) the warmest such period on record, and the past twelve months the warmest twelve-month period in recorded history. By NOAA's reckoning, seven of the past eleven months (May, June, August, September, October, and December 2014, along with March 2015) have tied or set new record high monthly temperatures. According to NASA, March 2015 had the 5th largest departure from average for warmth of any month in recorded history. Out of the ten months with the largest departures from average in the NASA database, five have occurred in the past year:

Jan 2007, 0.93°C above average
Mar 2002, 0.88°C above average
Mar 2010, 0.87°C above average
Feb 1998, 0.86°C above average
Mar 2015, 0.84°C above average
Apr 2010, 0.82°C above average
Sep 2014, 0.81°C above average
Feb 2015, 0.78°C above average
May 2014, 0.78°C above average
Oct 2014, 0.77°C above average

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for March 2015, the warmest March for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was observed in parts of the western United States and Canada, various regions in eastern Africa, parts of Scandinavia and northwestern Russia, part of south central China, and an area of northeastern Australia. Record cold was not observed over any land areas. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .
Global ocean temperatures during March 2015 were the 3rd warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the 2nd warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in March 2015 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 9th or 5th warmest in the 37-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively.

Figure 2. Cars are covered under the part of a metal roofing in Prague on March 31, 2015, as the Czech Republic and many other parts of northern Europe are hit by extreme winds. Image credit: MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images.

One billion-dollar weather disaster in March 2015: European windstorms Mike and Niklas
One billion-dollar weather-related disaster hit the Earth last month, according to the March 2015 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield: back-to-back severe windstorms (Mike and Niklas), which pounded western and central Europe from March 29 - April 1. The storms killed at least nine people and did approximately $1 billion in damage. Hurricane-force winds, including a peak gust of 192 kph (120 mph), hit parts of Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Poland. The European windstorm and the February 16 - 22 U.S. winter storm ($1.9 billion in damage) have been the only billion-dollar weather disasters of 2015, as tallied by Aon Benfield. Two other natural disasters during May 2015--landfalls by two separate Category 5 tropical cyclones in Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia--may end up being the most expensive disasters in those nations' history (see below.) The deadliest disaster of March 2015 was an extreme flood in Chile's Atacama Desert, which left 111 people dead or missing.

Figure 3. Tropical Cyclone Pam as seen by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi satellite at 10:42 am EDT March 13, 2015. At the time, Pam was a Category 5 storm with 165 mph winds, and was just southeast of Efate Island, where the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila, lies. Image credit: @NOAASatellites.

Tropical Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu’s worst natural disaster on record?
Category 5 Cyclone Pam blasted the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Friday the 13th of March 2015 with maximum 1-minute sustained winds of 165 mph winds, making it one of only ten Category 5 storms ever rated by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in the waters east of Australia. The official tropical cyclone warning center for the area, the Fiji Meteorological Service, estimated that Pam's central pressure bottomed out at 896 mb, making it the second most intense tropical cyclone in the South Pacific basin after Cyclone Zoe of 2002. At least eleven were killed, 132,000 people impacted, and damages were at least $100 million. According to EM-DAT, the international disaster database, the only comparable disaster in Vanuatu's history occurred in January, 1985 when twin Category 3 storms--Eric and Nigel--battered the nation, affecting 118,000 people and doing $173 million in damage. By April 10 2015, reliefweb.int estimated that 110,000 people in Vanuatu still had no access to safe drinking water, and 6,000 people were still living in makeshift or temporary shelters.

Figure 4. One of the most spectacular images ever captured of a tropical cyclone from space: Category 5 Super Typhoon Maysak as seen from the International Space Station at approximately 6 pm EDT Tuesday March 31, 2015 (just after dawn local time.) At the time, Mayask had top winds of 160 mph as estimated by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, and a central pressure of 905 mb, as estimated by the Japan Meteorological Agency.  At its peak strength, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put Maysak's central pressure at 905 mb, the lowest pressure they have estimated for any typhoon occurring so early in the year (previous record: 930 mb.) Image credit: Terry W. Virts.

Typhoon Maysak: one of Micronesia's most expensive natural disasters in history
With damage in the millions, nine dead, and over 6,000 people homeless, the  March 29 - April 1 rampage of Typhoon Maysak through the Federated States of Micronesia ranks as one of the worst disasters in their history. Maysak passed through the Chuuk State of Micronesia as a Category 1 typhoon, and Maysak's southern eyewall passed over the sparsely populated islands of Fais and Ulithi in the Yap State of Micronesia while the storm was at Category 5 strength.  Most structures on Ulithi not made of concrete were damaged or destroyed by Maysak's powerful winds. The entirety of the island's crop were ruined by the typhoon's storm surge, with early estimates indicating that it would be a full year before crops could be planted again, due to salt water intrusion. The nine people killed by the storm made it Micronesia's second deadliest storm in recorded history, according to EM-DAT. Their deadliest disaster was Category 4 Typhoon Chataan, which dumped 19.90" (506 mm) of rain in 24 hours on Chuuk, causing landslides that killed 47 people. The most expensive disaster in Micronesia's history was Category 1 Typhoon Nina, which did $6 million (1987 dollars) in damage on November 21, 1987.

Video 1. The deadliest disaster of March 2015 was flooding in the driest part of the world—Chile’s Atacama desert, on March 23 - 26, 2015. As of April 13, there were 111 people dead or missing from the disaster. According to EM-DAT, this would rank as Chile's 3rd deadliest flood in recorded history. The largest city in the region, Antofagasta, received a deluge of 24.4 mm (0.96 inches) in 24 hours—over fourteen years of rain in one day! This video shows incredible flooding in Chanaral, Chile, on March 25, 2015 from the deluge. A better version of this video with sound is available on Facebook.

El Niño continues in March 2015
NOAA maintained its El Niño advisory during March 2015, as weak El Niño conditions continued in the equatorial Eastern Pacific. Sea surface temperatures were 0.7°C above average on April 13 in the so-called Niño 3.4 region (5°S - 5°N, 120°W - 170°W), where SSTs must be at least 0.5°C above average for five consecutive months (each month being a 3-month average) for an El Niño event to be declared. NOAA is giving a 70% chance of El Niño lasting through summer.
Arctic sea ice falls to lowest March extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during March 2015 was the lowest in the 36-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). As of April 16, sea ice extent was the 3rd lowest on record for this time of year, behind 2007 and 2006, according to The University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.
Notable global heat and cold marks set for March 2015
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 46.5°C (115.7°F) at Birdsville, Australia, March 19
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -74.4°C (-102.5°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, March 31
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 44.5°C (112.1°F) at Hudeiba, Sudan, March 29
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -55.2°C (-67.4°F) at Delyankir, Russia, March 5

Major stations that set new all-time heat or cold records in March 2015
Saint Brandon, Saint Raphael Island (Cargados) (Mauritius), max. 35.4°C  March 2
Cape Town (South Africa), max. 42.4°C, March 3
Cape Point (South Africa), max. 39.3°C, March 3
Robertson (South Africa), max. 44.0°C, March 3
Jonkershoek (South Africa), max. 42.8°C, March 3
Bata (Equatorial Guinea), max. 35.5°C, March 18
Santiago Pudahuel Int. Airport (Chile), max. 36.8°C, March 20
Arturo Prat (Antarctica), max. 11.3°C, March 23
Marambio Base (Antarctica), max. 17.4°C,  March 23
Esperanza (Antarctica), max. 17.5°C, March 24
Zamboanga (Philippines), max. 37.0°C, March 31

New all-time national and territorial heat records set or tied in 2015
So far in 2015, five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history. For comparison, only two nations or territories did so in 2014, and nine did in 2013. The most all-time national heat records in a year was nineteen in 2010 (21 records at the time, but two have been broken since.) Since 2010, 46 nations or territories (out of a total of 235) have set or tied all-time heat records, and four have set all-time cold temperature records. Since each of those years ranked as one of the top twelve warmest years in Earth's recorded history, this sort of disparity in national heat and cold records is to be expected. 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 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. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt maintains a database of these national heat and cold records for 235 nations and territories on wunderground.com's extremes page. Here are the national heat and cold records set so far in 2015:

Ghana set a new national heat record of 43.3°C (109.9°F) at Navrongo on April 10. This is the third time this year Ghana has tied or set a new all-time heat record. Previous records:  43.1°C (109.6°F), set the previous day, on April 9, and 43.0°C (109.4°F) on February 12.
Antarctica set a new territorial heat record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) at Esperanza Base on March 24. Previous record: 17.4°C (63.3°F) at Marambio Base, set the previous day. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has appointed a committee to study this event and determine if this represents an official record for the continent.
Equatorial Guinea set a new national heat record of 35.5°C (95.9°F) at Bata on March 17. Previous record:  35.3°C (95.5°F) at Malabo in February 1957.
Wallis and Futuna Territory (France) set a new territorial heat record with 35.5°C (95.9°F) on January 19 at Futuna Airport.
Samoa tied its national heat record with 36.5°C (97.7°F) on January 20 at Asau. Previously record: same location, in December 1977.

Climate Change Bumper Sticker Contest
It's time to sharpen your pencils, cudgel your brains, and consult your muse: the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is running a bumper sticker contest! This is your chance to help to spread the word about climate change education. Your brilliant idea could end up on the tail end of thousands of cars. Your climate change-themed bumper sticker can be funny, fierce, fiery--as long as it's good. The details: http://ncse.com/climate/climate-bumper-sticker-contest. Submissions will be accepted through May 31, 2015.

This week’s WunderPoster: Penitentes
The finely sculpted ice features known as penitentes are featured in the latest installment in our WunderPoster series (Figure 5, right). Charles Darwin wrote about penitentes in 1839 after a visit to the Andes, where the formations are especially common. In very dry high-altitude conditions, such as those found in the Andes, snow crystals often enter the atmosphere directly as water vapor (sublimation) rather than first melting into water. Random features on the snow surface, such as pockets of dust or soot, can affect the rate of sublimation and lead to a patchwork effect. The resulting depressions concentrate sunlight, further hollowing out the snow and leaving behind the majestic spires, which can range from a few inches up to 15 feet tall.

Penintentes draw their name from the spires’ resemblance to the tall hoods worn by religious figures during the penance processions of Spanish Holy Week.

All WunderPosters can be downloaded in formats suitable for posters or postcards.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

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.