Even without a boost from El Niño, January 2017 was 3rd warmest such month in records dating back 137 years

By Tom Yulsman | February 16, 2017 9:01 pm
January 2017 temperature anomalies

A map of temperature anomalies for January 2017 shows that most of North America and Siberia were much warmer than the 1951-1980 base period. Much of the rest of Asia was also relatively warm. (Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

Unlike last year, January 2017 got no temperature boost from El Niño. Yet it was still remarkably warm.

In their monthly analyses, both NASA and NOAA concur that this past month was the third warmest January since record keeping began in 1880.

Last month’s temperature was 0.20 degrees Celsius cooler than the warmest January on record, which occurred just last year, according to NASA. Even so, the agency reports that January 2017 was 0.92 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean temperature for the month during the base period of 1951-1980.

Temperature anomaly trends through January 2017


It’s tempting to breathe a little sigh of relief, since January 2017 seems to mark the first time in awhile that global temperatures did not continue a steady upward march, as measured by the 12-month running mean. (Click on the image at right to see what that looks like.)

But I’m not breathing too deeply, since the dip is tiny — and January was still plenty warm, even thought the warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific characteristic of El Niño dissipated many months ago.

The top two warmest January’s were 2016 in first position, and 2007 in second; both occurred in El Niño years.

Surface temperatures across most of the ocean surfaces were well above average, making January 2017 the second warmest for the seas, according to the NOAA report.

A mild and short-lived cool La Niña episode developed after 2016’s monster El Niño. But it’s gone now. With no La Niña cooling influence on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what will happen to global temperatures during the rest of the year.

  • OWilson

    Maybe, there’s hope for the Human Race, after all!

    The Earth’s average January Temperature, is lower now than it was 10 years ago! :)

  • Mike Richardson

    The warmest 3 January’s were all within the past 10 years. I think anyone seeing this current January as breaking a trend is not seeing the big picture, or choosing to deliberately ignore it.



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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