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The World Just Experienced Its Hottest January On Record

The four warmest Januaries on record have all occurred since 2016.

Posted on February 13, 2020, at 2:31 p.m. ET

NOAA / Via ncei.noaa.gov

Last month was the hottest January on record, scientists said, with temperatures measuring about 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

The new record, announced by NOAA on Thursday, came on the heels of the hottest decade on record. Scientists first started collecting temperature data 141 years ago, and the four warmest Januaries on record have all occurred since 2016.

The warming last month strongly mirrored what occurred in January 2016, which previously held the record. But unlike then, “it is remarkable that we don't currently have a substantial El Niño event brewing,” Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA and adjunct researcher at the Columbia Earth Institute, told BuzzFeed News in an email.

Contributing to this year’s warming has been a strong weather phenomenon, called the “Arctic oscillation,” Schmidt said. While some scientists think this pattern may strengthen with growing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, “there is a lot of noise in this pattern” making it difficult to identify a clear trend, Schmidt added.

“But the overwhelming reason why we are breaking so many heat records is because we are warming up in the long term and the trends in winter are the strongest,” Schmidt said.

In other words, this scorching trend is only expected to continue due to human-made climate change, as people keep burning fossil fuels resulting in more and more greenhouse gases piling up in the atmosphere.

Where was it warm? Almost everywhere. The Northern Hemisphere clocked its hottest January on record, and the Southern Hemisphere had its second-warmest January.

Last week, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced Europe had just concluded its warmest January on record. Many Scandinavian cities, for example, repeatedly witnessed temperatures rise above freezing, which is unusual for this time of year. Russia also had an exceptionally warm January.

In the US, no state experienced its warmest January on record. However, the Hawaii region experienced its second-warmest January. Meanwhile, Washington state had an especially wet month, resulting in widespread flooding, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island experienced a very dry month, according to NOAA data.

Both the Arctic and Antarctic experienced below-average sea ice extent last month, but no new low sea ice level records were set.


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