Multiple global heat records have been falling in rapid succession as the planetary temperature rises in response to a freshly-emerged El Niño in the equatorial Pacific, with the global average temperature soaring above 17°C (62.6°F) for three consecutive days.
The trend started on July 3 when the average global temperature hit 17.01°C (62.62°F), easily beating the previous record of 16.92°C (62.46°F) set in August 2016. July 4 saw that number rise to 17.18°C (62.9°F), a high that continued into the following day. While these numbers hardly seem blisteringly hot, they’re the average temperature of the totality of the Earth’s surface at two meters (6.56 feet) altitude, and that includes temperature lows brought about by winter conditions in the southern hemisphere; otherwise, the global average is supposed to sit at roughly 15°C (59°F).
Adding to this upward trend is the emergence of an El Niño event that is seeing increased surface temperatures along the equatorial Pacific Ocean, made official on July 4 in a statement released by the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO said that the current event “is expected to be at least of moderate strength” and has a 90 percent probability of continuing through the second half of the year.
“The onset of El Niño will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean,” according to WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.
“The declaration of an El Niño by WMO is the signal to governments around the world to mobilize preparations to limit the impacts on our health, our ecosystems and our economies,” Taalas added. “Early warnings and anticipatory action of extreme weather events associated with this major climate phenomenon are vital to save lives and livelihoods.”
Indeed, the entirety of the world’s oceans began seeing an unprecedented increase in temperature earlier this year, despite coming at the tail end of an uncommonly-prolonged three-year La Niña; although continued ocean warming has been forecast as a consequence of global warming for some time, this anomalous rise in temperatures was unanticipated.
“This has got scientists scratching their heads,” Professor Mike Meredith, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey, remarked when the anomaly was discovered last April. “The fact that it is warming as much as it has been is a real surprise, and very concerning. It could be a short-lived extreme high, or it could be the start of something much more serious.”
Although atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will back off somewhat as 2023 progresses due to its seasonal fluctuation, NOAA reports that CO2 levels have been sitting above 422 parts per million since April, nearly 51 percent higher than the pre-industrial average.
Although it is tied with 2020 as the hottest year on record, 2016’s record heat occurred during a back-to-back, record-breaking El Niño event that saw the year’s average temperature hike to 1.25°C (2.25°F) above the pre-industrial global average. It should also be noted that 2020 hit the same temperature despite the average temperature being brought down by the onset of the La Niña event that concluded earlier this year.
[Editor’s note: as this appears to be an unfolding trend I expect these records to be broken in the short time between the writing of this article and its posting; I’ll post a brief update on the current temperature in the comments.]
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