Average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere likely exceeded 2°C above pre-industrial levels in February, producing what meteorologist Eric Holthaus calls “a milestone moment for our species” and evidence that “global warming is going into overdrive.”
In a March 3 post on Slate, Holthaus notes that “it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1°C, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4° further in just the last five months. Even accounting for the margin of error associated with these preliminary datasets, that means it’s virtually certain that February handily beat the record set just last month for the most anomalously warm month ever recorded. That’s stunning.”
The result is that “there basically wasn’t a winter” for many parts of the planet. Parts of the Arctic were 16°C above their February normal, at temperatures just below freezing that would normally be expected in June. The United States, Europe, and Asia shattered temperature records for the month, while the tropics saw an extension of the longest coral bleaching event in history.
Which means that, almost overnight, global temperatures have begun closing in on the warming limits to which countries committed just three months ago in Paris. “There, small island nations on the front line of climate change set a temperature target of no more than 1.5°C rise by the year 2100 as a line in the sand, and that limit was embraced by the global community of nations,” Holthaus writes. “On this pace, we may reach that level for the first time—though briefly—later this year. In fact, at the daily level, we’re probably already there. We could now be right in the heart of a decade or more surge in global warming that could kick off a series of tipping points, with far-reaching implications on our species and the countless others we share the planet with.”
A record-setting El Niño is still under way, but Holthaus says that only accounts for about 0.1°C of the global increase. “El Niño isn’t entirely responsible for the absurd numbers we’re seeing,” he writes. “What’s actually happening now is the liberation of nearly two decades’ worth of global warming energy that’s been stored in the oceans since the last major El Niño in 1998.”
Update: Weather Underground was out with its own analysis March 13.