Spring came early: February likely warmest on record amid climate change

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 4:06 AM

By Jake Spring

(Reuters) – The world likely notched 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 C) 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 U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA 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,” according to Karin Gleason, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA 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 up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) above normal this week, with the town of Killeen, Texas setting a record of 100F (38 C).

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

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Peter Graff)