March 2020 was the planet's second warmest March since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA on Monday, with the only warmer March coming in 2016. The year-to-date period of January – March ranks as the second warmest such period on record, behind 2016. According to NCEI's annual temperature outlook, the year 2020 has a 99.94% chance to rank among the five warmest years on record. This would make each of the past seven years among the seven warmest years on record.

The outlook also gave a greater than 70% chance of 2020 being the warmest year on record. Note, though, that this is a statistical model, and does not take into account the possibility that a La Niña event might develop by the end of the year and prevent a record-warm year from occurring. 

Remarkably, NOAA classified March 2020 as being tied with February 2020 and December 2015 for having the third highest monthly temperature departure from average for any month in the 1,683-month record, dating back to 1880: 1.16°C (2.09°F) above the 20th century average. Only February 2016 (+1.31°C / +2.36°F) and March 2016 (+1.26°C / +2.27°F) had a higher temperature departure. Both of those warmer months came during a near-record strong El Niño event. Global temperature records are more likely to be set during El Niño events, due to the extra heat the tropical Pacific Ocean gives up to the atmosphere. The fact that both February and March 2020 were tied for being the third warmest months on record--without the boost of an El Niño event and during the minimum of one of the weakest 11-year solar cycles in the past century--speaks to the dominant role human-caused global warming has in heating our planet.

Global ocean temperatures during March 2020 were the second warmest on record, and global land temperatures were also the second warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in March 2020 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the third or second warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS, respectively.

Departure of temperature from average
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for March 2020, the second warmest March for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record March warmth was recorded across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and western Pacific oceans, as well as parts of southern North America, South America, Asia, and Africa, comprising 8.17% of the globe’s area. One small area of the North Atlantic, representing 0.06% of the globe, had a record-cold March temperature. Credit: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

Two billion-dollar weather disasters in March 2020

Two billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the March 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon:

1. A severe weather outbreak on March 2 – 5 in the U.S., which featured an EF4 tornado that ravaged Nashville, Tennessee, killing 25 people and causing $1.1 billion in damage.

2. A severe weather outbreak on March 27 – 30 across parts of the central and eastern U.S., which spawned 24 tornadoes and caused $1 billion in damage. The hardest-hit states were Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana.

Through the end of March, Earth had seen six billion-dollar weather disasters in 2020:

1) Wildfires, Australia, 11/8 – 1/17, $2+ billion, 34 killed
2) Windstorm Ciara, Western & Central Europe, 2/9 – 2/10, $2.3 billion, 14 killed
3) Severe Weather, 1/10 – 1/12, Central and Eastern U.S., $1.2 billion, 12 killed
4) Severe Weather, 2/3 – 2/8, Central and Eastern U.S., $1.1 billion, 5 killed

5) Severe Weather/Nashville Tornado, 3/2 – 3/4, Central and Eastern U.S., $1.1 billion, 25 killed
6) Severe Weather, 3/27 – 3/30, Central and Eastern U.S., $1.0 billion, 0 killed

Two April U.S. severe weather outbreaks, on April 6 – 9 and on April 12 – 13, have the potential to be billion-dollar weather disasters, as well.

Neutral El Niño conditions reign

NOAA’s April 9 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) stated that neutral ENSO conditions existed, with neither an El Niño nor a La Niña event in progress. Over the past month, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific have been near the 0.5°C above-average threshold needed to be considered El Niño conditions.

Forecasters at NOAA and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are calling for a roughly 60% chance of neutral conditions continuing through the Northern Hemisphere summer. They put the odds of an El Niño forming by the August-September-October peak of the hurricane season at about 22%, and the odds of a La Niña event at 30% (a drop from the 35% chance given a month ago). Atlantic hurricane seasons tend to be much more active during La Niña conditions than during El Niño conditions, due to weaker upper-level winds creating lower amounts of wind shear.

Departure of temperature from average
Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) ending on April 13, 2020. Over the past month, SSTs were about 0.5°C above average, right at the threshold for weak El Niño conditions. Credit: Levi Cowan

Arctic sea ice: eleventh lowest March extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during March 2020 was the eleventh lowest in the 42-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The ice extent was higher than seen in recent years thanks to a strongly positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO). Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum on March 5, and has now begun its seasonal retreat.

Antarctic sea ice extent in March 2020 was near the 1981 – 2010 average, ending a 41-month period with below-average extent.

Notable global heat and cold marks for March 2020

Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 45.5°C (113.9°F) at Abu Nama, Sudan, 27 March
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -64.5°C (-84.1°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, 15 March
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 45.1°C (113.2°F) at Onslow, Australia, 1 March
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -75.3°C (-103.5°F) at Vostok, Antarctica, 21 March

Highest 2020 average temperature to date (1 Jan-31 Mar) worldwide: 33.5°C (92.3F) at Telfer, Australia 
Highest 2020 average temperature to date (1 Jan-15 Mar) in the Northern Hemisphere: 31.3°C (88.3°F) at Choluteca, Honduras (station stopped reporting in mid-March)
Highest 2020 average temperature to date (1 Jan-31 Mar) in the Northern Hemisphere: 31.0°C (87.8°F) at Phuket, Thailand

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in March 2020

Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 1 set a new all-time heat record in March, and 0 set all-time cold records:

Pachuca (Mexico) max. 33.0°C, 27 March

Three all-time national/territorial heat record set or tied in 2020

As of April 13, three nations had set an all-time national heat record in 2020:

Colombia: 42.6°C (108.9°F) at Jerusalen, 19 February (tie)
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, 6 April
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, 10 April; broken again on 11 April with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on 12 April with 39.3°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas

No all-time national cold records have been set thus far in 2020.

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Thirty-four monthly national/territorial heat record beaten or tied in 2020 as of April 13

January (11): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Cuba
February (10): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Switzerland, Maldives, Gambia, Russia, Seychelles
March (6): Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Seychelles, United States, Thailand
April (7): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemey, Honduras, Guernsey, Mayotte, Haiti

One monthly national cold record has been beaten or tied in 2020:

April: St. Eustatius

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2020

Highest minimum temperature ever recorded the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, 17 January. 

Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, 21 January.

Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, 6 February.

Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in Antarctica: 7.6°C (45.7°F) at Base Marambio, 9 February.

Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in March in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali on 23 February.

Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in April in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia on 2 April.

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.)