Scientists staggered by huge rise in temperature
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
Earth got so hot last month that scientists struggled to find words, describing temperatures as "astronomical," "staggering" and "strange".
They warned that the climate may have moved into a new and hotter phase.
This was not just another of the drumbeat of 10 straight broken monthly global heat records, triggered by a super El Nino and man-made global warming.
February 2016 obliterated old marks by such a margin that it was the most above-normal month since meteorologists started keeping track in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA said Earth averaged 13.38C in February, 1.21C above average, beating the old record for February set in 2015 by nearly one-third of a degree Celsius.
The old record was set just last December and the last three months have been the most above-normal months on record, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden.
Nasa, which uses different statistical techniques, as well as a University of Alabama Huntsville team and the private Remote Sensing System team, which measure using satellites, also said February 2016 had the biggest departure from normal on record. These were figures that had federal scientists grasping for superlatives.
"The departures are what we would consider astronomical," Blunden said. "It's on land. It's in the oceans. It's in the upper atmosphere. It's in the lower atmosphere. The Arctic had record low sea ice."
"Everything everywhere is a record this month, except Antarctica," Blunden said. "It's insane."
In the Arctic, where sea ice reached a record low for February, land temperatures averaged 4.5C above normal, Blunden said. That's after January, when Arctic land temperatures were 5.8C above normal.
It was also the warmest winter - December through to February - on record, beating the previous year's record by more than 0.29C.
Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said she normally didn't concern herself much with the new high temperature records that are broken regularly.
"However, when I look at the new February 2016 temperatures, I feel like I'm looking at something out of a sci-fi movie. In a way we are: it's like someone plucked a value off a graph from 2030 and stuck it on a graph of present temperatures. It is a portent of things to come, and it is sobering that such temperature extremes are already on our doorstep."
Nasa's chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt usually discounts the importance of individual record hot months, but said this month was different.