Science

The ‘Other’ Startling Climate Records In January

I promised myself a little over a year ago that I would limit the use of headlines like, “X Month Was The Warmest Year On Record.” It is not because that is not important. In fact, it is downright worrisome. However, climate change will make such headlines commonplace and not “Breaking News.” Instead, I believe we need to focus on the “so what?” around these records and make connections to the economy, public health, national security, agriculture, water supply, energy, and so forth. January (2020) was the warmest, globally, since record-keeping began in 1880 and fifth warmest in the United States. Sadly, some people will interpret that by saying things like, “oh this is great, I can fire up the grill in January” or go running in February in New York (picture below) rather than internalizing the complex implications to the aforementioned “kitchen table” issues. Herein, I use my outlet to share some of the other climate records from January and why they matter.

I am truly stunned by the record warmth in Antarctica. A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) committee is currently investigating whether a new temperature record was broken in January. According to a WMO press release, “The Argentine research base, Esperanza, on the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula, set a new record temperature of 18.3°C (64.94°F) on 6 February, beating the former record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) on 24 March 2015, according to Argentina’s national meteorological service (SMN).”

Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record but we will of course begin a formal evaluation of the record once we have full data from SMN and on the meteorological conditions surrounding the event. The record appears to be likely associated (in the short term) with what we call a regional “foehn” event over the area: a rapid warming of air coming down a slope/mountain”

Randall Cerveny, WMO Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur and Professor at Arizona State University

While this event is likely related to a regional wind system anomaly called a foehn, Antarctica is starting to respond to climate change in many ways. This month an iceberg about the size of the city of Atlanta broke away from the Pine Glacier. Calving is a natural process, but the Pine Glacier has been losing ice at dramatic rates over the past 25 years according to a tweet by CopernicusEU.

In January researchers also found, after boring into it, record warmth at the waterline of the Thwaites Glacier in west Antarctica. It is called the “doomsday glacier” because its rate of melting is one of the fastest in the world, and it is about the size of Florida. According to scientists, this glacier has already accounted for about 4% of global sea level rise and an anomaly melting event would dramatically increase that number.

Though mysteriously broken this morning at the time of writing (It worked last night!), climatologist Deke Arndt posted a link to a website noting how truly extraordinary the warming in January was. Arndt, an expert at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) pointed out that there was no El Nino event as January beat the global temperature record. Typically, record warm years are often found during the warm phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle.

This was not just the warmest January on record. It was probably the warmest January since we’ve had cities, and maybe since we’ve had language. And here’s the kicker: we broke this record without the extra push of an El Nino.

Deke Arndt, NOAA Climatologist at NCEI

Other warming records in January that likely didn’t garner the headlines were included in a NOAA press:

  1. Australia: 3rd warmest January on record (as they dealt with harmful bushfires).
  2. Asia: 2nd warmest January on record. Much of Russia had temperatures 9°F warmer than normal (see map below).
  3. Caribbean: 2nd warmest January on record.
  4. Europe: 2nd warmest January on record.
  5. South America: 2nd warmest January on record.

Sea ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctic were both in the top 10 lowest since the satellite era began, and Northern Hemisphere snow cover was in the top 20 lowest amounts.

I should also mention for those people “cherry-picking”cold places or days to refute global warming that Alaska had its 13th coldest January. It was the coldest one since 2012, yet the globe still experienced its warmest January on record. This is a valuable lesson that even a record warm global scenario will still have some cold spots.


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