February 2018: Earth's 11th Warmest February on Record

March 19, 2018, 3:08 PM EDT

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Above: Workers remove snow from a railway switch point close to the North Station in Bucharest on February 27, 2018. Romania's National Railway Company (CFR) canceled 120 trains following severe weather and cold that struck the nation, bringing lows as cold as -22°C (-8°F). Winter weather in Europe was the deadliest weather-related disaster of February, with at least 88 deaths due to hypothermia. Image credit: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images.

February 2018 was the planet's eleventh warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Monday. NASA rated February 2018 as tied for the sixth warmest February on record, with the only warmer Februarys being 2016, 2017, 1998, 2015, and 2010. The difference in rankings between NASA and NOAA is mostly due to how they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, where few surface weather stations exist. The rankings for February were cooler than we've seen in recent years thanks to the presence of colder weather than average over much of North America, Europe, and east Asia, plus the presence of cool ocean temperatures over the Eastern Pacific from a weak La Niña event for the second consecutive winter.

Global ocean temperatures during February 2018 were the seventh warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the fifteenth warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in February 2018 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the eighth or twelfth warmest in the 40-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS, respectively.

Departure of temperature from average
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for February 2018, the 11th warmest February for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was limited to small areas across the eastern contiguous U.S., southern Argentina, the Middle East, Russia's Far East, New Zealand, and scattered across all oceans. No land or ocean areas experienced record cold temperatures during February 2018. Image credit: National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

No billion-dollar weather disasters in February 2018

No billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the February 2018 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield. However, damage tallies from an outbreak of winter weather in China during the last week of January topped the $1 billion mark by the end of February, giving Earth its fourth billion-dollar weather disaster of 2018. The deadliest weather event of February was an outbreak of cold, arctic air that engulfed a large portion of Europe and Asia during the last two weeks of the month, which killed at least 88 due to hypothermia, most notably in Poland. The winter weather also caused hundreds of millions in damage, and may eventually exceed the $1 billion threshold. Here is the tally of billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2018:

1) Winter Storm Friederike, Western & Central Europe, 1/18, $2 billion, 13 killed
2) Winter Storm Grayson, Central & Eastern U.S., 1/3 – 1/5, $1.1 billion, 22 killed
3) Winter Weather, China, 1/24 – 1/29, $1.1 billion, 2 killed
4) Winter Storm Eleanor & Carmen, Western & Central Europe, 1/1 – 1/4, $1 billion, 7 killed

China cold
January Billion-Dollar Disaster 4.  Heavy snow and extreme cold affected parts of Central and Eastern China from January 24 - 29, killing two people. Tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes, and at least 2,500 structures were damaged. Extensive damage was reported to the agricultural sector in the hardest-hit provinces of Anhui, Hunan, Hubei, and Jiangsu. This disaster was not included in our January list, since it had not yet exceeded $1 billion in damage, but by the end of February, total economic damage from the winter weather was estimated at $1.1 billion. Above: This photo taken on January 24, 2018 shows ice forming on the face of a Chinese sanitation worker on a cold winter day in Hulun Buir, northern China's Inner Mongolia region. Image credit: AFP/Getty Images.

La Niña weakens, and is expected to dissipate by May

La Niña conditions remained but weakened over the equatorial Pacific during the past month, said NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) in its March 8 monthly advisory. The waters of the tropical Eastern Pacific warmed to near-neutral conditions, and the atmospheric wind regime we expect to see during a La Niña also weakened. NOAA predicted that the current weak La Niña event that began in August 2017 is near its end, with a 55% chance that it will transition to a neutral state during the March – May timeframe (these are the same odds that they gave in their January outlook). The Australian Bureau of Meteorology declared La Niña officially over in the March 13 installment of its biweekly report. The bureau uses a more stringent threshold than NOAA for defining La Niña: sea-surface temperatures in the Niño3.4 region of the tropical Pacific must be at least 0.8°C below average, vs. the NOAA benchmark of 0.5°C below average.

Over the past week, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) were about 0.8°C below average, which is in the 0.5°C to 1.0°C-below-average range that is required to qualify as a weak La Niña. Odds for an El Niño event to form are predicted to increase as we head towards the fall and winter of 2018, with the latest CPC/IRI Probabilistic ENSO Forecast calling for a 1 in 3 chance of an El Niño event during the August-September-October peak of the Northern Hemisphere hurricane season. El Niño events typically reduce Atlantic hurricane activity, due to an increase in wind shear over the tropical Atlantic.

Departure of SST from average
Figure 2. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) have hovered around 0.8°C below average over the past week; SSTs of 0.5° - 1.0°C below average in this region are required to be classified as weak La Niña conditions. Image credit: Levi Cowan, tropicaltidbits.com.

Arctic sea ice falls to lowest February extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during February 2018 was the lowest in the 39-year satellite record, beating the record set in February 2017, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This is the second consecutive month that a new monthly record for ice extent has been set in the Arctic. The low sea ice was largely due to a record-warm winter in the Arctic. Temperatures near the freezing point were experienced at the North Pole in late February, one of several remarkable incursions of warm air during the winter. The lack of Arctic sea ice this February allowed a commercial tanker, the Eduard Toll, to make the first crossing of Northern Russia’s Northern Sea Route in winter without an icebreaker. According to analysis by the U.S. National Ice Center, this year’s old ice (multi-year ice) pulled completely away from the coast of Northern Russia, and the Northern Sea Route has been dominated by first-year medium (0.7- to 1.2-meter) or first-year thick (1.2- to 2-meter) ice. This allowed the Eduard Toll to make its historic trip without the services of an icebreaking vessel. Sea ice extent in the Arctic was no longer at record-low seasonal values by mid-March, though, according to NSIDC data.

Antarctic sea ice extent in February 2018 was the second lowest on record, behind the record set in 2017.

Notable global heat and cold marks set for February 2018

Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 39.5°C (109.0°F) at Tillabery, Chad, 27 February
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -59.3°C (-74.7°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, 6 February
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 46.5°C (115.7°F) at Winton, Australia, 14 February
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -61.3°C (-78.3°F) at Concordia, Antarctica, 26 February
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in February 2018

Shizukuishi (Japan) min. -20.8°C, 2 February
Yuzawa (Japan) min. -18.6 °C, 2 February
Ikarigaseki (Japan) min. -17.2°C, 2 February
Yokote (Japan) min. -16.4°C, 2 February
Yashima (Japan) min. -13.9°C, 2 February
Kakikawa (Japan) min. -13.0°C, 2 February
Tsuruoka (Japan) min. -11.6°C, 2 February
Kurayoshi (Japan) min. -8.0°C, 6 February
Hikita (Japan) min. -6.7°C, 7 February
Hyuga (Japan) min. -6.4°C, 7 February
Furie (Japan) min. -6.0°C, 7 February
Lanzarote Airport (Canary Islands, Spain) min. 7.6°C, 7 February
Otoshima (Japan) min. -6.2°C, 8 February
Ikeda (Japan) min. -7.9°C, 8 February
Otsu (Japan) min. -7.3°C, 8 February
Uwa (Japan) min. -12.0°C, 8 February
Egawazaki (Japan) min. -7.0°C, 8 February
Tokusha (Japan) min. -16.0°C, 8 February
Kashima (Japan) min. -9.9°C, 9 February
Izumo (Japan) min. -8.4°C, 9 February
Aoya (Japan) min. -7.5°C, 9 February
Mihama (Japan) min. -6.8°C, 9 February
Iwai (Japan) min. -8.5°C, 9 February

Note: On 21 February, Koror tied the national record of highest temperature in Palau with 34.4°C

 (Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

One all-time national heat record tied in February 2018

So far in 2018, one nation has tied an all-time record for its hottest temperature in recorded history: Palau, which hit 93.9°F (34.4°C) at Koror on February 21. 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.

Bob Henson contributed to this post.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Dr. Jeff Masters

Dr. Jeff Masters co-founded Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology at the University of Michigan. He worked for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 as a flight meteorologist.


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