Temperature Trends

February Hottest Month Ever in the Satellite Temperature Record: Global Temperature Trend Update

Will February's warmth stand out as a singular spike or be part of an ongoing trend?


Dreamstime: Meryll

When compared to seasonal norms, the month of February was the hottest month ever in the satellite temperature record. University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report satellite temperature data each month as measured against the 30-year average of 1981 through 2010. Both climatologists are quite skeptical that man-made global warming will result in catastrophic consequences.

February's higher than normal temperatures mark the fifth straight month that global average temperatures were more than 1°C above average. As EcoWatch reports, "Parts of the Arctic were 16°C above average, reaching temperatures more often seen in June." In addtion, the region likely saw its lowest February sea ice levels since records began being kept in 1981. 

In an email reporting the results, Christy notes:

By a statistically significant amount, February 2016 was the warmest month in the satellite temperature record…. Interestingly, however, that record might have as much to do with an extraordinarily warm month in the Arctic as it does with warming caused by the El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event.

Globally, the average temperature anomaly in February (+0.83 C) was warmer than the previous record set in April 1998 (+0.74 C) during the so-called "El Niño of the century."

In the Northern Hemisphere, the February anomaly (+1.17 C) was a full 0.32 C (0.58 F) warmer than the previous NH record (+0.85 C) set in April 1998. Temperatures in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere were not at record levels in February.


While the Arctic temperature anomaly is large, big temperature swings in the Arctic region aren't unusual, especially during the winter months. Those swings are also normally somewhat transient, so the extra heat represented in February could dissipate over the next few weeks. If that happens, it doesn't appear the heat from the El Niño by itself will be enough to continue pushing temperatures to new records later in the year, in which case this February anomaly might stand out as a singular spike in the dataset rather than part of an ongoing trend.

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade

February temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.83 C (about 1.50 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Northern Hemisphere: +1.17 C (about 2.11 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.50 C (about 0.90 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Tropics: +0.99 C (about 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for February.

Go here to see the monthly satellite data since 1979.