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Wed Apr 15, 2020, 09:30 AM

No El Nino, But March 2020 Still Second-Warmest Globally In Instrumental Record

Above: Departures from average global temperature for the period January-March. Going back to 1880, this year has seen the second warmest January-March period on record. (NOAA/NCEI)

Even without an assist from El Niño, this year is giving 2016 a run for its money as the warmest year on record. In its monthly global climate summary for March, released on Monday, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reported that last month was the second warmest March in record going back to 1880. The month came in only 0.15°C (0.27°F) behind March 2016.

Last month also saw the third largest departure from the 20th-century average for any of the 1683 months on record, behind only February and March 2016.

NASA concurred with NOAA, as did the Japan Meteorological Agency, with both ranking last month as the second warmest in their respective databases. Meanwhile, Europe's Copernicus Climate Change Service found March 2020 to be the fourth-warmest March on record, but it was within 0.04 degrees of the second- and third-warmest Marches from 2017 and 2019. Such differences in rankings can stem from variations in how research groups analyze global temperature, including how they account for data-sparse areas such as the Arctic.

The crucial difference between this year and 2016 is that one of the strongest El Niño events on record was peaking in late 2015 and early 2016. As it spreads warm water across the surface of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, El Niño can send vast amounts of stored oceanic heat into the atmosphere. Most of the recent record-warm spikes atop longer-term global warming from human-produced greenhouse gases have occurred during El Niño, so to get a March this warm without El Niño is truly noteworthy.



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