February likely warmest on record amid climate change

February likely warmest on record amid climate change

Premature blooming of flowers from Japan to Mexico one of many signs of the times

A bird rests on a jacaranda tree branch in Mexico City, where blooming is nearly a month ahead of schedule, leading to speculation that climate change is a factor. (Photo: Reuters)
A bird rests on a jacaranda tree branch in Mexico City, where blooming is nearly a month ahead of schedule, leading to speculation that climate change is a factor. (Photo: Reuters)

The world is believed to have recorded its warmest February on record, as spring-like conditions caused flowers to bloom early from Japan to Mexico, left ski slopes bald of snow in Europe and pushed temperatures to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in Texas.

While data has not been finalised, three scientists told Reuters that February is on track to have the highest global average temperature ever recorded for that month, thanks to climate change and the warming in the Eastern Pacific Ocean known as El Nino.

If confirmed, that would be the ninth consecutive monthly temperature record to be broken, according to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency will publish final figures for February around March 14, according to its press office.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the record temperatures mean that “springtime comes earlier”, Karin Gleason, an NOAA atmospheric scientist said last week.

“I was just in the eastern part of North Carolina yesterday and saw some trees in full bloom with blossoms all over the trees and I’m thinking — it’s February. This just seems really odd.”

People in Tokyo similarly snapped photos of pink cherry blossoms that bloomed about a month earlier than usual, while jacaranda trees that normally blossom in late March have filled Mexico City with purple buds since January.

As snow melted in Europe this month, ski runs turned to mud and sat idle in Bosnia and Italy, while one French resort rebranded its slopes as a hiking and biking destination.

In the United States, temperatures were as much as 40F (22C) above normal this week, with the town of Killeen, Texas setting a record of 100F (38C).

The added heat from global warming wreaks havoc on global systems, helping melt glaciers in the poles and mountains, raising sea levels and driving extreme weather, said Anders Levermann, a physicist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Record high temperatures in the summer — now under way in Southern Hemisphere — generally leads to a spike in heat-related deaths, said Jane Baldwin, an atmospheric scientist at University of California Irvine.

“Heat is a substantial silent killer,” she said.

Heat waves hit Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Chile this month, with the hot and dry conditions also contributing to wildfires near Santiago killing at least 133 people.

Gleason said that El Nino is expected to dissipate by mid-2024 and could quickly shift to La Nina — a cooling in the Eastern Pacific — which might help to break the hot streak toward the end of the year.

Still, the NOAA predicts there is a 22% chance that 2024 will break the record set in 2023 as the hottest year, and there is a 99% chance it will be in the top 5, Gleason said.

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