WunderBlog Archive » Category 6™

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

NOAA Agrees: February 2016 Was Earth's Warmest Month in Recorded History

By: Jeff Masters 3:53 PM GMT on March 17, 2016

February 2016 was by far the planet's warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, and was also the warmest month relative to average of any month in the historical record, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Thursday. As discussed here on Sunday, NASA also rated February 2016 as the warmest February as well as the warmest month in recorded history (measured as a departure from average.) In the NOAA database, February 2016 came in a full 0.32°C (0.58°F) warmer than the previous record-holder, February 2015--a truly astounding margin to break an all-time monthly global temperature record by (these records are typically broken by just a few hundredths of a degree.) The five warmest months since 1880 (as measured by departure from average in both the NOAA and NASA databases) were the past five months. The impressive global warmth in recent months is due to the steady build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases due to human activities, plus a spike due to a large amount of heat being released from waters in the Eastern Pacific due to the strong El Niño event there.

Figure 1. Departure from average for the global February temperature for the years 1880 - 2016. This year had by far the warmest February temperatures on record. Image credit: NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

February 2016 also marked the tenth consecutive month that the monthly temperature record has been broken and the fifteenth consecutive month (since December 2014) that the monthly global temperature ranked among the three warmest for its respective month in the NOAA database. Global ocean temperatures during February 2016 were the warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the second warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in February 2016 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the warmest in the 38-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). This is the fifth consecutive month the UAH database has registered a record monthly high.

Figure 2. Departure of temperature from average for February 2016, the warmest February for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was observed across portions of South America, much of southern Africa, southern and eastern Europe, around the Urals of Russia, most of Southeast Asia stretching to northern Australia, and portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Image credit: National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Strong El Niño quickly weakening
February 2016 still featured strong El Niño conditions in the equatorial Eastern Pacific, with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) 1.8°C above average on March 12 in the so-called Niño3.4 region (5°S - 5°N, 120°W - 170°W), where SSTs must be at least 1.5°C above average to be considered a strong El Niño. El Niño is weakening quickly--the event peaked in strength in late November 2015, when the weekly Niño3.4 temperature anomaly hit a record 3.1°C. NOAA expects a transition to neutral conditions during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a 50% chance of a transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

Arctic sea ice falls to lowest February extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during February 2016 was the lowest in the 38-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This is the second consecutive month with a record-low sea ice extent.

Four billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2016
According to the February 2016 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield, four billion-dollar weather-related disasters have hit Earth so far in 2016:

1) Drought, Vietnam, 1/1 - 2/29, $6.7 billion, 0 killed
2) Winter Weather, Eastern U.S., 1/16 - 1/18, $2.0 billion, 58 killed
3) Winter Weather, East Asia, 1/20 - 1/25, $2.0 billion, 116 killed
4) Drought, Zimbabwe, 1/1 - 2/29, $1.6 billion, 0 killed

Notable global heat and cold marks set for February 2016
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 45.0°C (113.0°F) at Nguigmi, Niger, February 29: ties highest recorded temperature in February in the Northern Hemisphere
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -61.3°C (-78.3°F) at Summit, Greenland, February 11
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 47.8°C (118.0°F) at Mardie, Australia on February 12 and at Emu Creek, Australia on February 13
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -59.4°C (-74.9°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, February 17
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in February 2016
El Bolson (Argentina) max. 37.5°C, 1 February
Niuafoou (Tonga) max. 35.5°C, 1 February: New National Record High for Tonga
Bauerfield Airport (Vanuatu) max. 35.7°C, 7 February: New National Record High for Vanuatu
Tanna White Grass Airport (Vanuatu) max. 35.2°C, 7 February
Saratata (Vanuatu) Max. 35.3°C, 7 February
Ouloup (New Caledonia, France) max. 35.3°C, 7 February
Ouanamham (New Caledonia, France) max. 34.6°C, 7 February
Lamap Malekula (Vanuatu) max. 36.2°C, 8 February: New National Record High for Vanuatu
Fuaamotu Airport (Tonga) max. 34.4°C, 8 February
Pekoa Airport Santo (Vanuatu) max. 35.0°C, 9 February
Ambon (Indonesia) max. 36.1°C, 10 February
Cilaos (Reunion Islands, France) max. 30.4°C, 11 February
Aneityum (Vanuatu) max. 34.3°C, 11 February
Hanan Airport (Niue, New Zealand) max. 33.9°C, 11 February
Udu Point (Fiji) max. 34.0°C, 14 February
Sola Vanua Lava (Vanuatu) max. 35.0°C, 16 February
Low Isles Lighthouse (Australia) max. 38.8°C, 16 February
Bello (Colombia) max. 36.4°C, 16 February
Bondoukou (Cote d' Ivoire) max. 40.6°C, 16 February
Mangalore City (India) max. 38.4°C, 18 February
Kozhikode (India) max. 37.6°C, 19 February
Kannur (India) max. 38.8°C, 19 February
Dimbokro (Cote d' Ivoire) max. 41.2°C, 20 February
Gagnoa (Cote d' Ivoire) max. 38.9°C, 21 February
Port Harcourt (Nigeria) max. 38.0°C, 21 February
Nabouwalu(Fiji) max. 35.2°C, 23 February
Suva Airport (Fiji) max. 34.9°C, 24 February
Piura (Peru) max. 38.4°C, 24 February
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Four all-time national heat records and one all-time cold record set through mid-March 2016
So far in 2016, four nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history, and one (Hong Kong) has set an all-time cold temperature record. "All-time" record here refers to the warmest or coldest temperature ever reliably reported in a nation or territory. The period of record varies from country to country and station to station, but it is typically a few decades to a century or more. 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. 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 2016's all-time heat and cold records so far:

Botswana set its all-time hottest record on January 7, 2016, when the mercury hit 43.8°C (110.8°F) at Maun. The old record was set just the previous day  (January 6, 2016) with 43.5°C (110.3°F) at Tsabong. The record heat in Botswana during the first week of January was part of a remarkable heat wave that affected much of southern Africa, causing at least $250 million in drought-related damages to South Africa in the month. Mr. Herrera noted in an email to me that temperatures in South Africa at elevations between 1000 and 1600 meters were higher than any previous temperatures ever recorded at those altitudes anywhere in the world. The national heat records of Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Swaziland might all have fallen were it not for the lack of observing stations in the hottest areas. Lesotho has no weather stations anymore that issue the standard "synoptic" weather observations every six hours; Mozambique and Swaziland have closed all their stations in the hottest areas; and Namibia just closed its Noordower station, which was its hottest station.

Wallis and Futuna Territory (France) set a new territorial heat record with 35.8°C (96.4°F) on January 10, 2016 at Futuna Airport. This is the second year in a row that Wallis and Futuna has beaten its all-time heat mark; the previous record was a 35.5°C (95.9°F) reading on January 19, 2015 at the Futuna Airport.

Tonga set its all-time hottest record on February 1, 2016, when the mercury hit 35.5°C (95.9°F) at Niuafoou.

Vanuatu in the South Pacific set its all-time national heat record on February 8, 2016, when the mercury hit 36.2°C (97.2°F) at Lamap Malekula. The previous record was a 35.7°C (96.3°F) reading just the previous day (February 7, 2016) at the Bauerfield Efate Airport. All seven major weather reporting stations in Vanuatu beat or tied their all-time heat records February 7 - 8, 2016.

Hong Kong Territory (China) set its all-time coldest mark on January 24, 2016, when the mercury dipped to -5.7°C (21.7°F) at Tai Mo Shan.

We'll have a new post on Friday.

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.