Earth's Two Warmest Marches on Record Since 1880 Have Occurred the Past Two Years

Jon Erdman
Published: April 19, 2017

Global surface temperatures in March 2017 were the second-warmest for any March in records dating to the late 19th century, according to three independent analyses.

NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculated the Earth's mean temperature over land and water in March was 1.12 degrees Celsius above average, second only to March 2016's 1.27 degree Celsius departure from average in 137 years of records.

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Graphic of monthly global surface temperature anomalies from 1880 through 2017, color-coded by year, in degrees Celsius, relative to 1980-2015 average. March 2017 is highlighted by the dot.

NOAA's State of the Climate report released on April 19 also found March 2017 was the second warmest March in their dataset since 1880, 1.05 degrees Celsius above average. 

Another independent analysis from the Japan Meteorological Agency also found last month was the second-warmest March in its records dating to 1891.

These March 2017 temperature departures from average were the fourth highest of any month on record in NASA's database, and fifth highest in NOAA's records.

Taken together, the first three months of 2017 were the planet's second-warmest January-through-March period, according to NASA, NOAA and JMA data.

One year ago, a record-tying strong El Niño contributed to the planet's record-warm year. NOAA's report noted March 2017 was the first time a monthly departure from average topped 1 degree Celsius without an El Niño in play.

One degree Celsius may not sound like much, but in the realm of global average temperature anomalies, it is very significant.

Before October 2015, not one of the 1,629 months in NASA's database dating to 1880 had a warm temperature anomaly of 1 degree Celsius.

Since then, eight of the past 18 months have seen such warm global anomalies, and five of those months occurred consecutively from December 2015 through April 2016.

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Record-Smashing Warmth
(Monthly Rankings Since 1880; Data: NASA/GISS)
October 2015Record Warmest
November 2015Record Warmest
December 2015Record Warmest
January 2016Record Warmest
February 2016Record Warmest
March 2016Record Warmest
April 2016Record Warmest
May 2016Record Warmest
June 2016Record Warmest (tied)
July 2016Record Warmest
August 2016Record Warmest
September 2016Second Warmest
October 2016Second Warmest
November 2016Second Warmest
December 2016Second Warmest (tied)
January 2017Third Warmest
February 2017Second Warmest
March 2017Second Warmest

Leading the way in the unusual March 2017 warmth was Russia and eastern Europe, where monthly anomalies topped 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit), according to NASA/GISS.

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March 2017 global temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius), relative to a 1951-1980 base period.
(NASA/GISS/GISTEMP)

Among the notable factoids in the NOAA report, France tied and Germany surpassed their record warm March, Switzerland recorded its second warmest March, and England had its third warmest March.

Perhaps most impressively, Austria set its record warm March in 251 years.

Australia had its third warmest March in 108 years, while NOAA also found most of northern Russia had a record warm March.

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On the other end of the spectrum, it was the coldest March in Alaska in 10 years, NOAA reported.

March marked 380 months since the last colder-than-average month in NASA's database – July 1985.

Using a different 30-year base period, from 1881 through 1910, Climate Central found it had been over 52 years, since the last cooler-than-average month.

The last three consecutive years – 2014, 2015 and 2016 – each set a new warm record for the globe, according to NASA. 

What's ultimately most important is not whether a given month is a fraction of a degree warmer or colder; rather, it's the overall trend, which continues its upward climb since the late 1970s.

Jonathan Erdman is a senior meteorologist at weather.com and has been an incurable weather geek since a tornado narrowly missed his childhood home in Wisconsin at age 7. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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