Along with recording the third-highest global average January temperature, scientists with the World Meteorological Organization have been tracking the Polar equivalent of heatwaves, as strong Atlantic storms driving temperatures in the Arctic to near freezing, at times 50 degrees Fahrenheit above the seasonal average.
“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”
As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.
The extended spell of high global temperatures, especially over the Arctic, also led to record low Arctic sea ice volumes for this time of year. Antarctic sea ice extent is also the lowest on record.
According to NOAA, the average January temperature was 0.88 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average, which would make it the third-warmest January on record. Using a different dataset, the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest January.
Natural climate variability – such as El Niño and La Niña – mean that the globe will not break new temperature records every month or every year. More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).
The warmest areas in January were across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.A, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, three of the six continents had at least a top six warm January, with South America having its second warmest January since continental records began in 1910, behind 2016. Meanwhile, Europe had its coldest January since 2010.
And while El Niño was replaced by la Niña, the world’s oceans were still 0.65 degrees Celsius warmer than the 20th century average in January, the second-warmest on record. Cooler than average readings were reported from the northern, central, and southern parts of the Pacific Ocean, central Indian Ocean and along the western coast of Australia, and the northern and southern Atlantic Ocean, according to NOAA’s latest State of the Climate report.
For the contiguous U.S., it was the 18th-warmest January on record, with the eastern half of the country well above average, and few pockets of below-average readings in the Northwest.
During January there were 5,849 record warm daily high (2,299) and low (3,550) temperature records, which is more than two and a half times the 2,318 record cold daily high (1,266) and low (1,052) temperature records.
For the Northeast, it was the ninth month in a row with warmer than normal temperatures. The region’s monthly average temperature of 30.0 degrees Fahrenheit was 6.8 degrees above normal, making it the ninth warmest January since 1895. All twelve Northeast states experienced above-normal temperatures ranging from 5.0 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in Delaware to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in Vermont.
For more detailed regional U.S. information visit the NCEI National State of the Climate report.