Month of February, as Well as This Past Winter, Were Second Warmest on Record Globally

By Tom Yulsman | March 15, 2015 11:53 am

Evolution of global temperature anomalies between February and March. (Source: NASA GISS)

Even as half of the United States shivered, exceedingly warm temperatures in most other places pushed winter temperatures globally to their second highest on record, according to figures just released by NASA.

This past December through February period — meteorological winter— was topped only in 2007.  February itself was second warmest for the month, exceeded only by 1998.

I created the animation above to show how global temperature patterns evolved during winter — and to emphasize the strange but now familiar dichotomy in North America.

It starts with an anomaly map for December, which shows how temperatures departed from the long term average. Much of Europe, Siberia and the Arctic were particularly warm, as was North America, which helped 2014 finish as the warmest on record.

Then the so-called “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” or “RRR,” of high pressure became locked in place again over the eastern Pacific Ocean, solidifying record warmth in the western part of North America. The flip side of that pattern was a huge dip in the jet stream that allowed brutal Arctic cold to pour south into the eastern part of the continent.



In seen in the animation, that pattern is as stark as could be for the month of February — as is a remarkably widespread blob of anomalous warmth across all of Eurasia. The pattern also is visible in the anomaly map for the entire winter period (thumbnail at right).

Unfortunately for California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, the ridiculous ridge is not likely to become any less resilient between now and mid-May, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month outlook.

This is particularly bad news for California, which is suffering through its worst drought on record and may have just one year of water supply left in its reservoirs. Heat makes drought worse through evaporation.

For the entire world, the U.K. Met Office has this long-range prediction, covering the period April through June:


Source: U.K. Met Office

It looks like it may be shaping up to be quite a warm year globally. That’s particularly so in the north, where Arctic sea ice has already taken a bit of an early dive.

NASA is not the only agency to publish regular updates on global climate observations. NOAA produces its own month-by-month assessment. The agency should be coming out with February’s global report soon. We’ll see how it matches up with NASA’s assessment.



  • Mike Richardson

    Living somewhere that’s already pretty warm to begin with, I’m glad to see that Louisiana hasn’t had too great a shift in temperatures, though today made me wonder if we’re skipping spring. Still, it’s worrisome to see the places heating up fastest have lots of landlocked ice, and in some cases, quite a bit of methane locked up in what was always assumed to be permafrost (maybe not so permanent, now though). It is helpful that NASA and NOAA are compiling complementary data to document the growing problem.

    • tetefroid

      Have you seen those so called ‘mystery’ craters in Siberia? Frozen pockets of methane, flashing off as the permafrost melts.

      • Mike Richardson

        That’s a leading theory, anyway. The fact that methane readings are pretty high at the bottom of these things certainly supports it. The only question is, do they occasionally explosively outgas regardless of melting permafrost, or is this something that’s starting to occur more frequently due to the rising temperatures? I’d like to see more data from the field, but this was one of the projected outcomes of a warming arctic, and one of the most worrisome, since methane is such a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

        • tetefroid

          Just an analogy ; methane is a refrigerant, refrigerants absorb heat. Its the main ingredient in commercial refrigerants. Water, Co2 and everything you breath for that matter is a refrigerant, but I’m getting off track. One can replicate such an explosion by taking liquid refrigerant in a cup and adding heat, perhaps by just pouring water into that cup. Also just simply reducing the pressure over the liquid refrigerant will also cause an explosion. And by explosion I don’t mean a ball of fire, just rapid expansion into a vapor form(flashing off). You know, 8th grade science stuff.

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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