The planet had its 11th straight record warm month in March, but this month deviated from normal more than any that came before it, NOAA reported today.
March’s average global temperature was an unrivaled 2.20 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.58 degrees warmer than March 2015, the previous warmest March.
The month’s deviation from the long-term average of 2.20 degrees was 0.02 degrees more than 1,635 previous months in records dating back to 1880. February of this year had previously logged the biggest deviation of 2.18 degrees in the analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The current streak of 11 straight record warm months is the longest in 137 years of record keeping, NOAA said.
NOAA also reported that the first quarter of 2016 was, by far, the warmest on record, a full half-degree warmer than the first quarter of 2015, the previous record holder.
2016 is off to such a hot start that Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, estimated there is a 99 percent chance it will become the warmest year on record.
NASA independently analyzes global temperature data and also determined it was the warmest March on record.
In March, most land surfaces were warmer or much warmer than average, NOAA said. It found record warmth in eastern Brazil, most of eastern and central Africa, much of southeastern Asia, and large portions of northern and eastern Australia.
Independent climate indicators also exhibited signs of warming. Northern Hemisphere snow cover and Arctic sea ice both dropped to their second lowest extents on record for March.
March’s extraordinary global warmth was set in motion by the long-term climate-warming trend, but it surged to another level because of the ongoing El Niño event that has released large quantities of heat stored in the tropical Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere.
Even though El Niño “weakened considerably” during March, global average sea surface temperature still ranked the warmest on record, 1.46 degrees above average.
In the coming months, as El Niño continues to fade and potentially transitions to a La Niña event in which tropical Pacific ocean temperatures cool, global temperatures are unlikely to sustain recent levels, although it may take some time for the atmosphere to reflect the change in the oceans.