February is on track to break an unprecedented heat record: 'The planet is warming at an accelerated rate'

According to meteorologists, the month of February is on track to break a heat record as global warming caused by human activity and the natural climate phenomenon El Nino causes an increase in temperatures on land and in the oceans around the world, The Guardian reports.

Humanity is about to experience the hottest month of February. PHOTO Shutterstock (Archive)

Just over halfway through the shortest month of the year, the sudden increase in warming has become so pronounced that climate maps have reached a new high point, particularly in terms of sea surface temperatures, which have been so high and accentuated that experts are struggling to understand how this change takes place.

The planet is warming at an accelerated rate. We are witnessing rapid increases in temperature in the ocean, the climate's largest heat sinksaid Dr Joel Hirschi, Associate Head of Marine Systems Modeling at the UK's National Oceanography Centre.The extent to which previous sea surface temperature records were exceeded in 2023 and now in 2024 exceeds expectations, although understanding why this is happening is the subject of ongoing research.”

“Last year defied” expectations

Humankind is on track for its hottest February on record, following the hottest temperatures recorded in January, December, November, October, October, September, August, July, June and May, according to Zeke Hausfather, a researcher at Berkeley Earth.

He said the increase in recent weeks was on track to lead to 2 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, although this should be a short-lived and peak effect of El Nino if it follows the path of previous years and if it starts to get cold in the coming months.

Normally, that would be good news if a La Nina were to follow, causing temperatures to drop, but Hausfather said climate change has become more unpredictable.

Last year defied expectations so much that it's hard to have as much faith in the approaches we've used in the past to make these predictions“, he said. “I'd say February 2024 is considered the favorite to beat the previous record set in 2016, but it's by no means a foregone conclusion at this point as weather models suggest global temperatures will drop again in the coming week“.

“A Rewriting of Climate History”

The first half of February shocked the forecasters. Maximiliano Herrera, author of the Extreme Temperatures Around the World blog, described the wave of thousands of heat records from weather stations as “crazy“, “total madness” and “a rewriting of climate history“. What amazed him was not only the number of records, but also the extent to which many of them surpassed everything that had been recorded before.

He said 12 weather stations in Morocco recorded temperatures above 33.9°C, which was not only a national record for the hottest day of winter, but also more than 5°C above the July average . The northern Chinese city of Harbin was forced to suspend its winter ice festival as temperatures exceeded freezing for three days this month, an unprecedented situation.

Over the past week, monitoring stations in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Japan, North Korea, the Maldives and Belize have recorded monthly heat records.

The heat at the surface of the oceans continues to amaze seasoned observers and creates the possibility of intense storms during the year. Hurricane specialist Michael Lowry tweeted that sea surface temperatures in the main Atlantic development region, where most U.S. hurricanes of Category 3 or stronger form, “they are as high today in mid-February as they usually are in mid-July. Incredible“.

Global sea surface temperatures are on a “unknown territory”, according to Hirschi, who expects March to exceed last August's record by 0.1°C to 0.2°C. March is usually the warmest time of the year for the oceans, as it is the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, where most of the world's great seas are located.

“A much faster pace”

Sudden increases in temperature were to be expected, although their magnitude was a surprise.

A strong El Nino led to the rise in temperatures, but Francesca Guglielmo, principal scientist at Copernicus, noted that this was only one of several factors. Every additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted by mankind increases the pressure on the oceans.

Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, said the uncertainty about the impact of various factors reminds us that we do not fully understand every aspect of how the complex Earth system is responding to unprecedented radiative forcing.

This is happening at a much faster rate than has ever been seen in the past.”, she stated. “In any case, we are far more likely to underestimate the impact of these changes on human society than to overestimate them“.

El Nino is beginning to wane, which should reduce temperatures in the equatorial Pacific in late spring or early summer. If the North Atlantic continues to warm during that time, that could portend intense hurricane activity, Hirschi noted.

Such risks will increase every year if human-generated carbon emissions and deforestation are not stopped. “Slowing, stopping or reversing the warming trajectory we are on is akin to changing the course of a supertanker. The results are not immediate, but the sooner we act, the easier it will be to avoid facing problems“, he said.