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February, Winter Were Record Warm For Planet

The evidence continues to pile up that the last few months have been an exceptionally warm period for the planet.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its global temperature data, which confirmed what NASA numbers had already shown: This February was the warmest February on record and the most anomalously warm month in more than 100 years of record-keeping.

Click image to enlarge.

While an exceptionally strong El Niño has provided a heat boost, the spate of record-breaking temperatures is largely due to human-caused warming, research has shown.

According to NOAA, February was 2.18°F (1.21°C) above the 20th century average. NASA had slightly higher numbers, putting the month 2.43°F (1.35°C) warmer than average. But they used a different baseline than NOAA, comparing temperatures to the average from the period 1951-1980. Each agency also processes the temperature data slightly differently.

February marked the 374th consecutive month of above-average temperatures, going back to December 1984. It was also the most any month has been above average in the 135-year record.

The NOAA temperature data also yielded other notable records: February was the 10th consecutive record-breaking month, tying the record for such a streak, set back in 1944.

If March is also record warm, then it will set a new record.

“There is no way to be absolutely sure of course, but I think that March will break the record again next month,” Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., at NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information, said in an email. The main reason March is likely to do so, even though El Niño is waning, is because ocean temperatures are still hotter than at the same time last year, and the oceans take longer than the land to cool.

How temperatures around the globe differed from normal from December 2015 to February 2016.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

The winter season was also the warmest on record, according to NOAA, measuring 2.03°F (1.13°C) above the 20th century average and passing the record set last winter by 0.52°F (0.26°C). It marked the seventh record warm season in a row, going back to the summer of 2014. (And even the preceding spring was the second warmest on record at the time.)

On a slightly smaller scale, five continents had one of their top five hottest Februarys on record, going back to 1910: South America had its warmest, Europe and Africa their second warmest, Asia its third and North America its fourth. Australia had its 9th warmest February.

The major areas of anomalous warmth were around the Arctic, which also saw record low sea ice extent during January and February.

Where 2016 will end up as a whole is uncertain; while the year has begun with a major head start, a waning El Niño and a possible switch to a La Nina (El Niño’s cold counterpart) could narrow the gap. 

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2015 Hottest Year on Record So Far Through the first nine months of the year, 2015 has been the hottest year on record globally.

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