Climate

Record-Shattering February Warmth Bakes Alaska, Arctic 18°F Above Normal

CREDIT: NASA

How hot was it last month globally? It was so hot that the famed Iditarod sled race in Alaska brought in extra snow from hundreds of miles away by train.

It was so hot that NASA now reports that last month beat the all-time global record for hottest February by a stunning 0.85°F, when such records are usually measured in hundredths of a degree.

Global warming

Global mean surface temperature (anomaly from 1951-1980 mean). NASA data (h/t Tamino). Red dot is February.

It was so hot last month that large parts of the Arctic averaged more than 18°F (10°C) above normal. Not only did last month easily set the record for lowest February Arctic sea ice extent, as the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported, but Arctic sea ice growth has been almost flat for over a month during a time when it normally soars to its annual maximum.

Feb2-16NSIDC

It was so hot that February had the single biggest recorded monthly temperature anomaly (deviation from the 1951-1980 average temperature) — a whopping 2.4°F (1.35°C) above the average temperature for the month. The previous record deviation from the average — 2.0°F (1.13°C) — you may recall, was set in January.

In fact, as The Weather Channel noted, “The five largest monthly global warm anomalies in NASA’s database have all occurred within the past five months”:

BiggestAnomalies

CREDIT: NASA via Weather.com

By all indications, March will be near the top of that last too. And that means that it’s increasingly likely that 2016 will be even hotter than 2015, which itself was the hottest year on record since … 2014.

If you detect a pattern here of human-caused global warming, you are in the company of more than 97 percent of climate scientists

But wait. Aren’t we in that El Niño thing that temporarily boosts global temperatures? Yes, the El Niño regional warming pattern in the Pacific has been among the strongest since the 1997-1998 super El Niño, but as the top figure from NASA shows, the off-the-charts warming has been in the Arctic. Indeed, Sou at HotWhopper has put together an excellent chart using NASA data showing how current warming compares with the warming during the last two big El Niños:

El Nino

Global mean surface temperature for big El Nino years in degrees Celsius. The shaded area is the typical El Niño period.

Compared to previous big El Niños, we are experiencing blowout temperatures. It is worth noting that climate science deniers routinely cherry pick the super El Niño of 1997/1998 as a starting date for their (false) claim there is been no warming in the past two decades. But in fact there has been rapid warming — even in their favorite temperature dataset derived from satellites, as I discussed earlier this month.

An analysis of 2015’s record warming makes clear that virtually all of the warming — some 95 percent — is due to human activity.

Climate graph

A graph showing how much greenhouse gases dominate global temperatures compared to natural factors like El Niño. Almost all of 2015’s record heat is due to human activity.

The speed up of human-caused global warming, while long predicted, is extremely worrisome, particularly given where it is warming the most — the Arctic and permafrost regions of North America. For instance, recent research finds that rapid Arctic warming, driven in part by sea ice loss, is already worsening extreme weather.

Also, the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and as it defrosts, it releases that carbon in the form of either CO2 or methane (CH4), which is 84 more times more potent at trapping heat than CO2 over a 20-year period. Thus accelerated warming of the Arctic leads to accelerated global warming which leads to even more warming of the Arctic and so on.

We are running out of time to break this vicious cycle before it spirals out of control.