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Yes, It's Dang Hot! And With El Niño Gaining Strength, Bet on Even More Misery

It's confirmed: The record for warmest June was obliterated last month. Will 2023 go down as warmest year on record?

ImaGeo iconImaGeo
By Tom Yulsman
Jul 15, 2023 12:00 AMJul 15, 2023 12:03 AM
Global Temperature Anomalies in June
Global temperature anomalies for June 2023, according to the GISTEMP analysis by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Temperature anomalies reflect how June 2023 compared to the average June temperature from 1951-1980. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

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The headlines about global warming have been hard to miss. First we had the unofficial hottest day on record, then a string of unofficial hottest days in a row, followed by the unofficial hottest week.

But here at ImaGeo, I chose to wait for NOAA and NASA to come out with their regular independent monthly analyses of the global climate. I explain why below, but first, the news:

Both agencies have found that last month obliterated the record for warmest June globally.

In both NOAA's and NASA's records, last month marked the first time that the average global temperature for June was greater than 1 degree C above long-term averages. By NOAA's analysis, the global average surface temperature in June was 1.05 degrees C (that's 1.89 F) above the 20th-century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F). "June 2023 also marked the 47th-consecutive June and the 532nd-consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average," according to NOAA.

NASA's analysis was quite similar, with June coming in at 1.07 degrees C (1.93 F) above the 1951-1980 average.

Sizzling Oceans

Adding insult to injury, Earth's seas continued to sizzle. "For the third consecutive month, the global ocean surface temperature hit a record high as weak El Niño conditions that emerged in May continued to strengthen in June," according to NOAA. "Globally, June 2023 set a record for the highest monthly sea surface temperature anomaly of any month in NOAA’s climate record."

Daily sea surface temperatures between 60 degrees south and 60 degrees north latitude are plotted here from 1981 through July 13, 2023. SSTs have been running at record highs since March. (Credit: Climate Reanalyzer)

NOAA also just released its latest forecast for El Niño, finding that the climate phenomenon's chance of continuing through the winter is greater than 90 percent. This is significant because El Niño tends to boost temperatures globally.

The climate phenomenon is characterized by warmer than average sea surface temperatures across a broad swath of the equatorial Pacific. And during an El Niño episode, large amounts of heat that have been tucked away in the oceans tend to pour out into the atmosphere. We're already experiencing these effects with our still young El Niño, and we're just half way through the year.

July is usually Earth's warmest month. With large parts of North America, Europe, China, Africa and the Middle East currently experiencing brutal and lingering heat waves, we may well see another monthly global temperature record being obliterated — perhaps by an even larger margin than in June.

How Strong Might El Niño Get?

Forecaster's say there's an 80 percent chance that El Niño will strengthen and peak at least as a moderately-strong event. With that in mind, I wouldn't bet on much of a break from the current stretch of monthly scorchers.

In fact, there's a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will grow into a strong event. That would have even bigger potential impacts on temperatures, as well as weather patterns. And there's a 1 in 5 chance that it will grow into a very strong El Niño. Heaven forbid...

With El Niño already helping to jack up global temps, some climate experts are now saying the odds are quite good that 2023 will go down as the warmest in records stretching back to the mid 1800s. But NOAA says that's more likely to happen next year. Only time will tell.

But Will Earth's Warmth Muck up El Niño's Impact?

As for seasonal climate patterns, the outlook is a little hazier than it usually is during an El Niño year.

Typical impacts of El Niño on the jet stream and winter climate across North America. (Credit: NOAA Climate.gov map by Fiona Martin.)

The map above shows typical impacts in North America. These shifts are brought about by changes to conditions in the atmosphere, including the path of the jet stream. But right now, while the equatorial Pacific looks classically El Niño-ish, the atmosphere has been responding weakly. That might continue, thanks to a surprising factor: the astounding warmth of the world's oceans right now.

As University of Miami scientist Emily Becker puts it in NOAA's ENSO Blog, "The strength of the atmospheric response is related to the pattern of sea surface temperature throughout the tropics. When El Niño is clearly the loudest voice in the room . . . the atmospheric response is clear. However, when the western Pacific and the rest of the tropics are also warm, the response may be more muddled."

Once again, time will tell. But based on what we already know, we should brace ourselves for more meteorological and climatic mayhem.

Finally, why did I chose not to report on daily global warmth records being set, choosing instead to wait for NOAA's and NASA's analyses? Like a fever, those daily record highs do offer a warning that the patient — planet Earth — is not well. But it takes much more data gathered over a longer period to come up with a full, reliable diagnosis.

Moreover, unlike the computer modeling used to proclaim a warmest day on record, the monthly analyses are based on thousands of measurements of temperature taken at weather stations around the globe, by ships at sea, and ocean buoys. (NOAA alone operates more than 4,000 of those buoys!)

I'll be following up soon with a story about the impact of warm temperatures in an ordinarily icy place that's currently experiencing unusual surface melting: Greenland. Stay tuned...

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