February was Earth’s most unusually warm month on record, blowing away the record that had been set just one month prior.
The new findings, contained in preliminary data released Saturday by NASA and backed up by information from other research groups, show that the combination of a record strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean and human-caused global warming drove global temperatures to levels never before seen since instrument records began in 1880.
The NASA data, which is subject to adjustment as scientists refine their analysis, shows that February had a global average surface temperature of 1.35 degrees Celsius above the 1951 to 1980 average, or 2.43 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
The 1.35-degree Celsius temperature anomaly in February beat the anomaly recorded in January, which itself was a record high departure from average for any month. According to NASA, the global average surface temperature during January was 1.14 degrees Celsius above average, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the 1951 to 1980 average.
This means that temperatures in February 2016 had the largest departure from average of any month in NASA’s records since 1880.
To put it more plainly, February stands out for its unusual heat more than any other month in modern climate record.
The previous warmest February, according to NASA, was in 1998, which was also a year with an extremely strong El Niño.
However, in an important indication of how far human-caused global warming has shifted the baseline state of the planet’s climate, February 2016 came out 0.846 degrees Celsius, or 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than February 1998, despite the similar intensity of the El Niño events in both years.[/vc_column_text]