Second Hottest Month in 138 Years, Reports World’s Leading Climate Agency
The latest State of the Climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. has revealed that March 2017 was the world’s second-warmest March on record. The combined global average temperature over land and sea for the month was 1.05°C above the 20th century average of 12.7°C.
This was the second highest for March since global temperature records began in 1880, behind the record 2016 by 0.18°C, and ahead of 2015 by +0.15°C.
It was the first time since April 2016 that the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was greater than 1.0°C, and the first time the monthly temperature departure from average exceeds 1.0°C in the absence of an El Niño episode in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
With the expected arrival of El Niño by late in the southern hemisphere winter or spring, many forecasters are predicting further spikes ahead.
Sizzling start to 2017
It’s already been a sweltering start to the year on land, with the year-to-date January-March global average land surface temperature 1.75°C above the 20th century average of 3.7°C.
This was also the second highest for January–March in the 138-year record, behind 2016 by 0.31°C.
Overall, March 2017 tied with January 2016 as the fifth highest monthly global land and ocean temperature departure from average on record (1,647 monthly records), reveals the NOAA. The record monthly temperature departure of 1.23°C was set in March last year.
The most notable warm temperature departures from the 1981–2010 average were recorded across the contiguous U.S., Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia, where temperature departures were +3.0°C, or greater. Some areas in northern and eastern Russia, central Australia, and the south-central contiguous U.S. had a record warm March.
The average global land surface temperature was 1.98°C – the second highest March temperature on record, trailing behind the record set in 2016 (+2.36°C) and ahead of 2008 by +0.07°C. This was also the third highest land monthly temperature among all months (1,647) on record, behind March 2016 and February 2016 (+2.25°C).
Volatility at sea
Much of the world’s oceans surfaces also experienced warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions in March.
Record warmth was limited to sparse areas across the central, eastern and western equatorial, and southern Pacific Ocean, southern Atlantic Ocean, and southwestern Indian Ocean.
Near- to cooler-than-average conditions were observed across the North and Central Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic (south of Greenland), eastern Indian Ocean, and parts of the central and southern Atlantic Ocean. No ocean areas had a record cold March.
Averaged as a whole, the March 2017 global sea surface temperature was 0.71°C above the 20th century average of 15.9°C. This was the second highest March in the 138-year record, behind 2016 by 0.10°C and ahead of 2015 by +0.08°C. The global ocean surface temperature for March 2017 was the highest for any month since October 2016 (+0.72°C).
Ice melts at alarming rate
Warmer than usual sea temperatures also spelled another bleak month for the world’s coastal glaciers and polar ice caps.
The average Arctic sea ice extent for March was the lowest in the satellite record at 14.43 million square km, dipping below the previous worst mark of 14.49 million square km set two years earlier.
This is the sixth consecutive month with record-low ice expanse in the Arctic which is shrinking at an average rate of 2.7 percent per decade.
There was even gloomier news for the Antarctic in March, reports NOAA.
The sea ice extent was 2.92 million square km, which was 1.52 million square km, or 34.23 percent, below the 1981-2010 average.
To put those changes into perspective, the “missing” sea ice in the Arctic was roughly the size of Colombia, and in the Antarctic, the size of Mongolia. Combined, the 2.7 million square miles of “missing” ice is about the size of Kazakhstan.
Record Rainfall in Queensland, Australia
As is typical, rainfall anomalies during March 2017 varied significantly around the world, reports NOAA.
March 2017 precipitation was generally drier than normal across Alaska, the southwestern and southeastern contiguous U.S., northern and southern Africa, central, southern and eastern parts of Asia, and central Australia.
Wetter-than-normal conditions were notable across Mexico, the northwestern U.S., central and southern Argentina, southeastern parts of Asia, and eastern Australia.
Numerous monthly and daily rainfall records were set in Queensland and New South Wales, with significant flooding, due in large part to severe tropical cyclone Debbie in the final week of March.
The Plane Creek Sugar Mill near Mackay, Qld, received a total of 1315.6 mm of rain in March 2017—the highest March precipitation total in its 108-year record, surpassing the previous record of 996.4 mm set in 2011.
More record temperatures ahead
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology [BOM] also reports that the national mean temperature for March was the third-highest on record at 1.66 °C above average.
The national mean maximum temperature was 1.87 °C above average and mean minimum temperature 1.44 °C higher than normal; both the second-warmest for March.
It was hotter than normal across much of Australia, with mean temperatures for all states and the Northern Territory, except Western Australia, amongst the four warmest, reveals BOM.
Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia all reported a top-three hottest end to summer, with Victoria sweltering through its warmest on record, surpassing the previous high set last year by +0.41°C.
These trends are projected to continue in the coming decades, meaning that the climate change signal in these events will strengthen as conditions diverge further from historical averages, several climate control academics conclude in a report for The Conversation, co-authored with Heidi Cullen, chief scientist with Climate Central.
“It is clear that human-induced climate change is greatly increasing the likelihood of record hot summers in NSW and Australia as a whole,” they believe.