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January smashed another global temperature record

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Climate Central

The calendar may have turned to 2016, but temperatures are picking up where 2015 left off. January was record warm, according to data released this week by NASA.

You may recall that last year was the hottest on record for the globe. And by NASA’s accounting, it ended with a bang. This past December was the warmest December on record and the most abnormally warm month on record, too.

That is until now.

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This January was the warmest January on record by a large margin while also claiming the title of most anomalously warm month in 135 years of record keeping. The month was 1.13°C — or just a smidge more than 2°F — above normal. That tops December’s record of being 1.11°C — or just a smidge below 2°F — above average.

It marks the fourth month in a row where the globe has been more than 1°C (1.8°F) above normal. Incidentally, those are the only four months where the globe has topped that mark since record keeping began.

Large swaths of the globe were painted red by warmth to the point where it’s easier to talk about where the heat wasn’t (that would be Antarctica, Scandinavia, East Africa and a few parts of Russia for the record). The telltale signal of El Niño’s heat in the Pacific continues to be notable, but it’s the Arctic that truly stands out as the most abnormally warm place on the planet.

According to NASA, temperatures in some parts of the Arctic averaged up to 23°F above normal for the month. No, that’s not missing a decimal point.

The extreme warmth in the region sent sea ice dwindling to a new record low for January. Sea ice extent was 402,000 square miles below average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That’s the equivalent of a missing area of sea ice almost four times the size of Colorado, and puts this year right in line with a trend of ever decreasing sea ice in the region as the climate warms.

Since 1979, winter sea ice extent has decreased 3.2 percent per decade (the loss is much more pronounced in summer at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade).

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The first half of February has continued the trend of pronounced heat in the Arctic with no signs of it letting up soon. The western U.S., which was also a hot spot in January, is continuing to see abnormal warmth this February as is the East Coast after a brief cold blast this weekend.

Global heat is somewhat a symptom of El Niño. The climate phenomenon of warm water in the eastern tropical Pacific might have passed its peak, but is still providing a little boost to global temperatures.

The big driver, though, is human-caused climate change, according to a Climate Central analysis.

With January off to record heat, it reinforces the likelihood that 2016 could be yet another record-setting year. The U.K. Met Office has already released its forecast for 2016. It expects the globe to “be at least as warm, if not warmer” than 2015, according to Chris Folland, a Met Office research fellow.

If 2016 sets another global temperature record, that would make it back-to-back-to-back years of record setting hot temperatures. That’s never happened before.

And regardless of whether 2016 sets a record or not, some scientists think the world has stepped up to a new period of global warming. That doesn’t mean every year will set a record, but  “it seems to me quite likely that we have taken the next step up to a new level,” National Center for Atmospheric Research climate scientist Kevin Trenberth told Climate Central last month.

This article was originally published on Climate Central. Reproduced here with permission

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  • suthnsun

    It’s a true emergency, mankind is far more interested in making war, which of course only exacerbates the problem and dimishes resources to mitigate and ameliorate..
    Psychological adjustment is decades away and that is too late.

    • trackdaze

      Slow boil the frog, and it won’t notice. Raise the temperature a little bit faster and it will jump out.

      Let’s hope the temperature spike over the last 3 yrs has us jumping soon.

      • suthnsun

        Maybe, every time there appears something to galvanize a ‘jump’ we seem to be jumping in the wrong direction, hence my conclusion that cognitive dissonance, subtle denial and misdirection are holding sway and probably will hold sway for too long..

      • Doug Cutler

        I read somewhere that whole “slow boil the frog” thing was a bit of a myth. Given the opportunity, a frog likely would escape an overheating environment. Frogs, it turns out, are much smarter than humans.

  • john

    The political situation in the USA is showing a dismal fail when the future is discussed.
    The situation in Australia is just as dismal.
    How the policy makers can sleep straight in bed is beyond my comprehension.
    If there is any discussion it takes the line of “We take this seriously but there is no need to act at this time the market will decide”, of some other such do nothing approach statement.
    There are some signs that some States in the USA and large cities are showing a lead and it cuts across the political divide.
    Europe has shown as usual to be a leader in governance.
    The outcome in India and China will determine which direction we will travel over the coming decades.
    One can but life in hope that perhaps humanity will act for the fellow good and not self interest in coming decades.

  • John Knox

    Does anyone else here, other than me, look at these figures with morbid delight and think “Gee, now the world must surely act” when, in fact, I would much rather be wrong about this whole darn thing!!! There is such a Yin-Yan going on here as to make my head spin…