February was one of the warmest months recorded globally in more than 130 years.
It was confirmed this week by NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) that March 2017 was the second-warmest March, globally, on record. The only warmer March in a database stretching over more than 1,620 months, was March 2016. The second place ranking was also confirmed by NASA.
In addition, March was the fourth-warmest month – any month – in that database, coming behind February, March and January of 2016 and just ahead of February 2017.
Once again, the degree of warming is quite alarming. March was a massive 1.12 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. With January and February of 2017 among the warmest months ever recorded, there is an outside chance that 2017 could challenge 2016 as the warmest year on record.
This remains unlikely at this stage, as we only came out of an El Nino, which tends to enhance global warming, earlier in 2016.
Nevertheless, a localised warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific, which has resulted in heavy rain, flooding and landslides in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, has been ongoing for several months.
It is certainly possible that another El Nino could develop later this year, despite such events usually occurring only every two to seven years. Such a development would certainly raise the possibility of 2017 challenging 2016 as the warmest year on record.
The record temperatures of March applied equally to land and sea. As a result, sea ice extent in both the Arctic and Antarctic was at record low levels.
In the Arctic, sea ice – which reaches its annual maximum extent during March – was at its lowest maximum in 38 years of satellite records.
The recent drifting of icebergs into shipping lanes of the North Atlantic is symptomatic of an increasing warmth in the Arctic.
In the southern hemisphere, it is a similar picture in the waters surrounding the continent of Antarctica. Here, sea ice reaches its minimum extent during March. The sea ice was the lowest monthly minimum extent for the fifth consecutive month.
There was much fanfare made in 2016 when the Paris climate agreement committed world leaders to undertaking energy policies which would limit future temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Since then, the US has publicly questioned its commitment to that agreement, and global temperatures are continuing to rise at a very steep rate. Should Mother Nature make her own contribution to the warming process by allowing an El Nino to develop, it could make for some very alarming effects on weather and climate in the future.