December 2023 Selected Climate Anomalies and Events Map

Temperature

Coinciding with the release of the January 2023 Global Climate Report, the NOAA Global Surface Temperature (NOAAGlobalTemp) dataset version 5.1.0 replaced version 5.0.0. This new version includes complete global coverage and an extension of the data record back in time an additional 30 years to January 1850. While anomalies and ranks might differ slightly from what was reported previously, the main conclusions regarding global climate change are very similar to the previous version. Please see our Commonly Asked Questions Document and web story for additional information.

NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information calculates the global temperature anomaly every month based on preliminary data generated from authoritative datasets of temperature observations from around the globe. The major dataset, NOAAGlobalTemp version 5.1.0, updated in 2023, uses comprehensive data collections of increased global area coverage over both land and ocean surfaces. NOAAGlobalTempv5.1.0 is a reconstructed dataset, meaning that the entire period of record is recalculated each month with new data. Based on those new calculations, the new historical data can bring about updates to previously reported values. These factors, together, mean that calculations from the past may be superseded by the most recent data and can affect the numbers reported in the monthly climate reports. The most current reconstruction analysis is always considered the most representative and precise of the climate system, and it is publicly available through Climate at a Glance.


December 2023

The Decmeber global surface temperature was 1.43°C (2.57°F) above the 20th-century average of 12.2°C (54.0°F), making it the warmest December on record. This was 0.30°C (0.54°F) above the previous record from December 2015. December 2023 marked the 48th-consecutive December and the 538th-consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average.

December saw a record-high monthly global ocean surface temperature for the ninth consecutive month. El Niño conditions that emerged in June continued into December, and according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center it is likely that El Niño will continue for the next several months with a 73% chance that ENSO-neutral conditions will emerge during April–June 2024.

The Northern Hemisphere had its warmest December on record by a wide margin at 1.98°C (3.56°F) above average. This surpassed the previous record set in 2022 by 0.82°C (1.48°F). Both land and ocean temperatures were at record-highs for the Northern Hemisphere this December. The Arctic region had its second-warmest December on record.

December 2023 in the Southern Hemisphere also ranked warmest on record at 0.88°C (1.58°F) above average. While the average ocean-only temperature for December in the Southern Hemisphere ranked highest on record this December, land-only temperature was fourth warmest on record. Meanwhile, the Antarctic region had its 48th-warmest December.

A smoothed map of blended land and sea surface temperature anomalies is also available.

Temperatures were above average throughout most of North America, the Arctic, the northern half of South America, Africa, central and southern Europe, southwestern and southeastern Asia, and Australia. Parts of north-central North America, northern and central South America, the Middle East, and eastern and southern Asia experienced record-warm temperatures this month. Sea surface temperatures were above average across much of the northern, western, and equatorial Pacific Ocean as well as parts of the western Indian Oceans. Much of the central Atlantic Ocean was record warm for the month. Record-warm temperatures covered approximately 13.5% of the world's surface this December, which was the highest percentage for December since the start of records in 1951 and more than double the previous record of 6.6% in 2015.

Temperatures were near to cooler than average from northern Europe to eastern Asia, and across parts of Antarctica. Sea surface temperatures were near to below average over parts of the southeastern Pacific Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the northern Atlantic Ocean. Less than 1% of the world's surface had a record-cold December.

North America and South America both had their warmest December on record.

  • The contiguous U.S. had its fifth-warmest December in the 129-year record.
  • The Caribbean Islands region had its warmest December on record.

December 2023 ranked second warmest on record for Africa and the Arctic while Oceania ranked third warmest, Australia fourth warmest, and Europe seventh warmest on record. Asia had its 18th-warmest December on record and was the warmest December since 2019.

December Ranks and Records
DecemberAnomalyRank
(out of 174 years)
Records
°C°FYear(s)°C°F
Global
Land+2.35+4.23Warmest1st2023+2.35+4.23
Coolest174th1916-1.29-2.32
Ocean+1.01+1.82Warmest1st2023+1.01+1.82
Coolest174th1910-0.47-0.85
Land and Ocean+1.43+2.57Warmest1st2023+1.43+2.57
Coolest174th1916-0.71-1.28
Northern Hemisphere
Land+2.89+5.20Warmest1st2023+2.89+5.20
Coolest174th1916-1.57-2.83
Ocean+1.29+2.32Warmest1st2023+1.29+2.32
Coolest174th1904-0.51-0.92
Land and Ocean+1.98+3.56Warmest1st2023+1.98+3.56
Coolest174th1916-0.95-1.71
Southern Hemisphere
Land+1.13+2.03Warmest4th2012+1.30+2.34
Coolest171st1916-0.67-1.21
Ocean+0.82+1.48Warmest1st2023+0.82+1.48
Coolest174th1909-0.47-0.85
Land and Ocean+0.88+1.58Warmest1st2023+0.88+1.58
Coolest174th1909, 1910-0.48-0.86
Antarctic
Land and Ocean+0.06+0.11Warmest48th1984+1.25+2.25
Coolest127th1972-1.57-2.83
Ties: 1869, 1885
Arctic
Land and Ocean+4.01+7.22Warmest2nd2017+4.83+8.69
Coolest173rd1915-2.81-5.06

500 mb maps

In the atmosphere, 500-millibar height pressure anomalies correlate well with temperatures at the Earth's surface. The average position of the upper-level ridges of high pressure and troughs of low pressure—depicted by positive and negative 500-millibar height anomalies on the map—is generally reflected by areas of positive and negative temperature anomalies at the surface, respectively.

hgtanomaly-global-202312.png

Year-to-date Temperature: January–December 2023

The January–December global surface temperature ranked highest in the 174-year record at 1.18°C (2.12°F) above the 1901–2000 average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This surpassed the previous record from January–December 2016 by 0.13°C (0.23°F). According to NCEI's statistical analysis and data through December, there is a one-in-three chance that 2024 will be warmer than 2023 and a 99 percent chance that 2024 will rank among the five warmest years on record.

January–November in the Northern Hemisphere ranked warmest on record at 1.54°C (2.77°F) above average. Both the ocean-only and land-only temperatures also ranked highest on record for the Northern Hemisphere during 2023. January–December in the Southern Hemisphere also ranked warmest on record at 0.82°C (1.48°F) above average.

North America, South America, and Africa had their warmest year on record, while it was the second-warmest year on record for Europe and Asia. January–December 2023 ranked 10th warmest on record for Oceania.

A smoothed map of blended land and sea surface temperature anomalies is also available.

The year was characterized by near-record warm temperatures across much of the globe, with record-high annual temperatures across parts of Canada, the southern U.S., Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and a large portion of the central and north-eastern Atlantic as well as portions of the South Atlantic, Indian and South Pacific oceans. Meanwhile, cooler-than-average temperatures were limited to portions of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

January–December Ranks and Records
January–DecemberAnomalyRank
(out of 174 years)
Records
°C°FYear(s)°C°F
Global
Land+1.79+3.22Warmest1st2023+1.79+3.22
Coolest174th1884-0.74-1.33
Ocean+0.91+1.64Warmest1st2023+0.91+1.64
Coolest174th1909-0.44-0.79
Land and Ocean+1.18+2.12Warmest1st2023+1.18+2.12
Coolest174th1909, 1917-0.44-0.79
Northern Hemisphere
Land+2.11+3.80Warmest1st2023+2.11+3.80
Coolest174th1884-0.91-1.64
Ocean+1.11+2.00Warmest1st2023+1.11+2.00
Coolest174th1904-0.51-0.92
Land and Ocean+1.54+2.77Warmest1st2023+1.54+2.77
Coolest174th1917-0.55-0.99
Southern Hemisphere
Land+1.07+1.93Warmest2nd2019+1.12+2.02
Coolest173rd1917-0.63-1.13
Ocean+0.76+1.37Warmest1st2023+0.76+1.37
Coolest174th1909-0.41-0.74
Land and Ocean+0.82+1.48Warmest1st2023+0.82+1.48
Coolest174th1909-0.39-0.70
Antarctic
Land and Ocean+0.15+0.27Warmest40th2007+0.65+1.17
Coolest135th1962-0.53-0.95
Ties: 2012
Arctic
Land and Ocean+2.55+4.59Warmest4th2016+2.99+5.38
Coolest171st1902-1.08-1.94

Precipitation

The maps shown below represent land-only precipitation anomalies (left, using a base period of 1961–1990) and land-only percent of normal precipitation (right, using the period of record) based on the GHCN dataset of land surface stations.

December 2023

Significantly below-average December precipitation occurred from the Southwest to the northern Plains and from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes in the U.S., eastern Brazil, the Mediterranean, parts of southwestern Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia. Above-average precipitation occurred from the southern Plains to the Upper Midwest and along the U.S. East Coast, Argentina, and from central Europe to east-central Asia.

Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP)

The following analysis is based upon the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) Interim Climate Data Record. It is provided courtesy of the GPCP Principal Investigator team at the University of Maryland.

December Highlights:
  • The current El Niño continues to dominate the tropical rainfall anomaly patterns over ocean and land with generally dry conditions over Australia and the Amazon region.
  • The southern U.S. and Mexico have a mixed pattern of wet and dry, unlike what is expected under El Nino conditions, i.e., a precipitation surplus.
  • Much of Europe continues with above average precipitation to further relieve drought conditions, although Spain and Portugal and most of the Mediterranean were dry.
  • Intensity of global ITCZ sets record high for December, indicating impacts of global warming and El Niño on intensity of tropical rainfall.

The mean precipitation map for this December (see Fig. 1, top panel) shows a intense Pacific ITCZ and SPCZ as the strong focus for this month. The ITCZ extends east and west from there with overland features in Africa and South America broader and further south than the over ocean segments. The tilted storm tracks of the Northern Hemisphere are evident over the midlatitude oceans impinging on the northwest coasts of North America and Europe. In the southern oceans weaker tilted features are evident associated with the continents there, along with the narrow ring of higher precipitation circling the globe at about 55-60°S this month.

The 2023 year has been noted as a record warm year, and its December was also the warmest December. The current El Niño contributes to the warm surface temperatures (in addition to the general global warming contributions). The anomaly maps for December (Fig. 1, middle and bottom panels) reflect these forcings, especially those from the El Niño in the tropics. Over the tropical central Pacific a dramatic, intense, narrow and positive rainfall anomaly exists along the ITCZ and into the Southern Hemisphere in the SPCZ. This feature is a final result of the SST positive anomaly in this general area creating above average evaporation, additional atmospheric moisture, convection and rain as part of the upward branch of the Walker circulation. To the west a large, broad mostly negative anomaly is centered over Indonesia associated with the shifted position of the downward branch of the Walker circulation. As seen in Fig. 2 the El Niño composite for the month of December (from previous Decembers with El Niño present) has a similar pattern over these regions (repeated in the figure for easy comparison). To the north of the central Pacific ITCZ there is a broad area of rainfall deficit, including the Hawaiian Islands in both the composite and this month’s analysis.

The influence of the this 2023 and continuing El Niño still holds in December over much of the tropics with the positive rainfall anomaly over the western Indian Ocean and the deficit over much of Australia and South America, where the relative lack of rainfall will extend the drought over much of the Amazon region. The Indian Ocean large-scale rainfall surplus feature contained a local high rainfall and flooding event in the Seychelles Islands and a short-lived Tropical Cyclone Michaung hitting eastern India with heavy rainfall, both early in the month. Over Africa the anomaly pattern is not exactly the same as in the composite, with the Horn of Africa being dry this month, different than the composite. However, floods and landslides plagued Kenya and Tanzania with over 300 dead, typical of El Niño conditions. Although most of Australia was drier than normal, the far northeast (e.g., Cairns and vicinity) was hit with remnants of TC Jasper, with up to 870 mm of rain, causing major floods in the region, an opposite extreme from what is expected during El Niño conditions. Over South America dryness as expected over the northern half of the continent, except for the northwest, but a rainfall surfeit reigns further south, e.g., Argentina, as expected from the El Niño composite. However, this month’s pattern over the Atlantic ITCZ bears little resemblance to the composite. The overall correlation between this December’s anomalies and the El Niño composite is +0.59, significantly higher than previous months’ values.

From the El Niño December composite in Fig. 2 one would expect this December to have a positive precipitation anomaly across much of the southern U.S. However, as was the case last month, the actual pattern was mixed dry and wet anomalies, although the east coast of the U.S. was wet, with relief from the weak drought in the middle Atlantic states and even some flooding along the east coast, including in Florida and Maine. There was also a positive anomaly in the northwest U.S., opposite of the El Niño usual pattern, and an episode of flooding in southern California, both linked to cyclone-related features with Atmospheric Rivers (AR). However, most of the southern U.S. is still waiting for its expected El Niño precipitation maximum, including increased snowpack in the southern Rockies, which is only at about 70% of normal for this point in the year.

Over Europe a positive precipitation anomaly this month extends from the Atlantic, across the UK, France and Germany and far into central Asia, with a notable heavy snowfall event in Germany. An alternative precipitation deficit feature runs from the Iberian peninsula eastward over most of the Mediterranean and bordering land areas to the north and south.

Background discussion of long-term means, variations and trends of global precipitation can be found in Adler et al. (2017), and with comparison with climate models in Gu and Adler (2022). The Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) monthly data set is a long-term (1979-present) analysis (Adler et al., 2018) using a combination of satellite and gauge information. An interim GPCP analysis completed within ~10 days of the end of the month allows the use of the GPCP analysis in climate monitoring and for this discussion.

Ocean Heat Content

Ocean Heat Content (OHC) is essential for understanding and modeling global climate since > 90% of excess heat in the Earth's system is absorbed by the ocean. Further, expansion due to increased ocean heat contributes to sea level rise. Change in OHC is calculated from the difference of observed temperature profiles from the long-term mean.

October–December 2023 Ocean Heat Content (1022 joules)
Basin0-700 meters | Rank (1955-2023)
Entire BasinNorthern HemisphereSouthern Hemisphere
Atlantic8.5762nd5.0531st3.5224th
Indian5.9331st0.6807th5.2531st
Pacific7.5571st3.6661st3.8903rd
World22.0651st9.3991st12.6661st
Source: Basin time series of heat content
October–December 2023 Heat Content 0-700 m
Heat Content 0-700 m

Global OHC for October-December 2023 is the highest October-December OHC, as well as the highest quarterly OHC, in our records, which extend back to 1955. In fact, 2023 was the warmest year on record for the World Ocean. Overall, the latest quarterly OHC reveals widespread warmer than normal conditions relative to the 1955-2006 mean, a situation observed since the end of 2016. The October-December 2023 OHC shows large scale features similar to those observed since early 2023, but a notable difference is observed in the tropical Pacific Ocean: while there is a meridional expansion of the higher than normal conditions associated with the 2023 El Niño, > 10x105 J/m3, which extend from the coast of South America to about 170°W, OHC is lower, < -10x105 J/m3, in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. Much higher, > 30x105 J/m3, than normal OHC conditions continue to exist at mid-latitudes in the central and western North Pacific Ocean, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Current, and the northern Antarctic Circumpolar Current in the Indian Ocean sector. Higher, > 10x105 J/m3, than normal OHC conditions dominate the western South Pacific Ocean, the Tasman Sea, and most of the South Atlantic Ocean. Cool conditions, < -10x105 J/m3, appear in the western subtropical North Pacific Ocean and in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. Higher, > 10x105 J/m3, than normal conditions now dominate most of the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the eastern tropics.Global OHC for October-December 2023 is the highest October-December OHC, as well as the highest quarterly OHC, in our records, which extend back to 1955. In fact, 2023 was the warmest year on record for the World Ocean. Overall, the latest quarterly OHC reveals widespread warmer than normal conditions relative to the 1955-2006 mean, a situation observed since the end of 2016. The October-December 2023 OHC shows large scale features similar to those observed since early 2023, but a notable difference is observed in the tropical Pacific Ocean: while there is a meridional expansion of the higher than normal conditions associated with the 2023 El Niño, > 10x105 J/m3, which extend from the coast of South America to about 170W, OHC is lower, < -10x105 J/m3, in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. Much higher, > 30x105 J/m3, than normal OHC conditions continue to exist at mid-latitudes in the central and western North Pacific Ocean, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Current, and the northern Antarctic Circumpolar Current in the Indian Ocean sector. Higher, > 10x105 J/m3, than normal OHC conditions dominate the western South Pacific Ocean, the Tasman Sea, and most of the South Atlantic Ocean. Cool conditions, < -10x105 J/m3, appear in the western subtropical North Pacific Ocean and in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. Higher, < 10x105 J/m3, than normal conditions now dominate most of the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the eastern tropics.

Drought in December 2023

Based on global drought indicators available at the Global Drought Information System website, and media reports summarized by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

December Overview:

GDIS global indicators revealed dry conditions continued during December 2023 in Australia, the Brazilian Amazon, the Mediterranean, Southwest Asia, and much of Canada, while above-normal precipitation helped to relieve drought conditions in parts of Europe, India, Argentina, Africa, Mexico, and Central America. The University of Maryland’s Drs. Robert Adler and Guojun Gu noted that global precipitation patterns associated with the current El Niño included the observed December below-normal precipitation over Australia and the Amazon region and above-normal precipitation over parts of Argentina. December temperatures were warmer than normal across much of North America, the northern half of South America, Australia, much of Europe, and southern parts of Asia, all consistent with El Niño teleconnections. The warm anomalies were excessive, resulting in the warmest December on record for North America and South America, second warmest December for Africa, and seventh warmest December for Europe. When averaged across the world, December 2023 ranked as the warmest December on record globally. The excessive heat increased evapotranspiration which exacerbated drought in those areas that have been persistently dry. A significant portion of the world’s agricultural lands was still suffering from low soil moisture and groundwater levels, and satellite observations showed stressed vegetation on all continents. The GEOGLAM Crop Monitor indicated that agriculture was most threatened in parts of Central and South Americas, Africa, Europe, southern Asia, and Australia. The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) revealed significant food insecurity continuing in parts of Central and South America, Southwest Asia, and much of Africa. For many continents, excessive anomalous warmth characterized much of 2023. It was the warmest year on record for North and South America, Africa, and globally, second warmest year for Asia and Europe, and eighth warmest year for Australia. The January-December period ended up very dry across most of Canada, Central America, Southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean, and parts of Australia and South America, particularly the Amazon region, Venezuela, and the southern tip of the continent. When the excessive heat is factored in, the January-December drought areas include Southeast Asia, Mexico and the southern United States, and most of Africa and South America. The reversal from La Niña to El Niño during the year masked the dry conditions in the Horn of Africa, where a multi-year drought was followed by excessive rain leading to severe flooding. According to the Global Water Monitor Consortium’s Global Water Monitor, the record heat changed the water cycle in 2023, contributing to megadroughts, famine, and brushfires, particularly in the Americas and Africa. They also noted that relative air humidity was the second lowest on record, continuing a trend towards drier average and extreme conditions. They identified Central and South America (except southern Brazil and Uruguay), southern Africa, and western Australia as areas at the greatest risk of developing drought or experiencing intensifying drought in 2024. The Global Water Monitor team attributed the changed water cycle to the transition from La Niña to El Niño against a backdrop of overall increasing sea surface temperatures due to global warming. In its report, Global Drought Snapshot 2023: The Need for Proactive Action, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimated that 1.84 billion people worldwide, or nearly a quarter of humanity, were living under drought in 2022 and 2023, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries. “Droughts operate in silence, often going unnoticed and failing to provoke an immediate public and political response,” wrote UNCCD head Ibrahim Thiaw in his foreword to the report.

Like last month, Mediterranean coastal areas and parts of northern Scandinavia were drier than normal during December 2023, while areas in between were wetter than normal. This month’s precipitation added to previous months’ above-normal precipitation to create a positive precipitation anomaly pattern across much of Europe extending over the last 2 to 12 months, except along the Mediterranean coast. The dryness in the south was magnified at longer time scales, according to the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), with dryness appearing in a few northern areas at these multi-year time scales. Temperatures were warmer than normal across most of the continent, except over the Iberian Peninsula and in the North. December 2023 was the eighth warmest December, continent-wide, in the 1910-2023 NOAA/NCEI record. Excessive warmth during previous months resulted in the warmest multi-month periods from June-December through September-December as well as March-December. The hot temperatures increased evapotranspiration that, combined with low precipitation, intensified drought conditions, as seen in the Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), in southern Europe and northern parts of Scandinavia, and reduced the magnitude of the wet conditions in between these areas. The recent precipitation improved soil moisture conditions in central regions, but soils were still dry across the Mediterranean coast and in France, eastern Europe, and northern Scandinavia, based on satellite (GRACE) indicators. The satellite-based (GRACE) indicator of groundwater revealed low groundwater levels continuing across much of Europe. Satellite observations of vegetative health (Vegetative Health Index, VHI) revealed improved vegetation conditions over most of the continent, except in far northern Scandinavia. The European Combined Drought Indicator showed the most severe drought in parts of eastern Europe, the Mediterranean coast, and northern Scandinavia, with 21.8% of the EU-27 territory in Drought Watch, Warning, or Alert conditions, which is less than last month. In 2023, Europe had the second warmest year on record, continent-wide, with the Mediterranean coast, northern Scandinavia, and parts of eastern Europe drier than normal for the year. According to media reports (BBC News), Spain is the world's biggest olive oil producer, covering 70% of European Union consumption and 45% of that of the entire world. The lack of rain that olive-producing areas around Spain have been seeing has an enormous impact on both the amount of oil being produced and its price, with olive oil prices skyrocketing. As reported by the Sur in English media, southern Spain’s Malaga province continues to be plagued by drought and water levels at various reservoirs remained at record low levels.

Some northern, eastern, and southern parts of Asia were drier than normal during December, but a large swath across the middle, and parts of southern Asia, were wetter than normal. At the 2- to 3-month time scales, the SPI revealed dryness in Southwest Asia and a few areas in the north, east, and southeast. At longer time scales (6 to 72 months), dry conditions continued in Southwest Asia and were evident in parts of Russia, northern China, India, and Southeast Asia, with dryness in Southwest Asia particularly acute at 9- to 48-month time scales. December was warmer than normal across the southern third of the continent, and along some Arctic coastal areas, but near to cooler than normal across most of the continent in between, with the month ranking as the 18th warmest December, continent-wide in the 114-year NOAA/NCEI record. Excessively hot temperatures during previous months resulted in the warmest multi-month periods from February-December through October-December. The resulting increased evapotranspiration exacerbated drought conditions in the dry areas, especially in Southwest Asia, at all time scales, as seen in the SPEI. November and December precipitation helped improve soil moisture conditions, but December precipitation fell as snow, with all of Russia and northern parts of adjacent countries snow-covered throughout the month. The consequently-frozen soils locked soil moisture anomalies in place, so dry soils were still evident in parts of Russia and northern China, as seen on satellite-based products (GRACE). The satellite data also revealed dry soils across southern parts of Asia, as well as groundwater levels that were still significantly low (GRACE) across southern tier countries and parts of Russia and China. Satellite observations (VHI) revealed poor vegetative health across much of Russia and especially severe from Southwest Asia to northern China and Mongolia. Drought conditions were confirmed over northern, eastern, and coastal southwestern parts of India on the India Drought Monitor, covering about 25.6% of the nation, which is a little less than last month. In 2023, Asia had the second warmest year on record, continent-wide, with parts of Russia, China, and the southern tier countries drier than normal for the year; Southwest Asia experienced especially severe and widespread drought in 2023. According to media reports (Pattaya Mail), Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce attributes a surge in the country’s rice exports to El Niño-triggered droughts and a delayed monsoon season during the first 10 months of 2023 that hit Indonesia, reducing that country’s rice production. And Reuters noted that Indonesia has ordered the military to help farmers plant rice as severe drought has reduced output of the staple crop in Southeast Asia's most populous country, lifting prices, requiring increased imports, and threatening food security. The AFP/ABS-CBN Corporation reported that The Philippines endured fewer storms in 2023 than in any of the past 25 years and officials now fear that the country faces potentially the worst drought in decades.

December continued dry across much of the Mediterranean coast (the Maghreb region) of Africa, as well as the Horn of Africa, low-latitude western coastal areas, and Madagascar. El Niño-induced rains gave the central third of the continent a very wet 2-month period, while much of North Africa and parts of southern Africa were dry for November-December. This anomaly pattern (wet central and dry north and south) persisted on the SPI maps for the last 3 to 6 months. It persisted for longer time scales, except more of southern Africa had wet conditions. Most of Africa was warmer than normal this month, with December ranking second warmest, continent-wide. Excessive heat in previous months gave the continent the warmest multi-month periods from January-December through November-December. Increased evapotranspiration from the excessive warmth exacerbated drought in the dry areas, especially in East Africa, North Africa, and the western coastal areas. The SPEI maps showed more severe and widespread drought than the SPI maps at all time scales (1 to 48 months), except in the central wet areas, and even those wet areas were contracted in size on the SPEI maps. Satellite (GRACE) observations revealed persistent low soil moisture and groundwater in the Maghreb and adjacent northern regions, and over parts of central to southern Africa, with the worst conditions in the north and central regions. Satellite observations of vegetative health (VHI) revealed stressed vegetation over the northern and southern thirds of the continent, including Madagascar. An analysis by the African Flood and Drought Monitor estimated 20% of the continent in drought at the end of December, which is slightly less than last month. In 2023, Africa had the warmest year on record, continent-wide, with parts of southern and central Africa, and much of North Africa (especially the Maghreb region), drier than normal for the year. The November El Niño rains were heavy enough to make up for precipitation deficits that had built up earlier in the year over East Africa, so the annual precipitation was above normal, but effects from the prolonged multi-year drought there will linger for many months. According to media reports (Punjab News Express), in southern Africa, Zimbabwe's capital city Harare has shut down a water treatment plant because of depleted water supply in reservoirs resulting from an El Niño-induced drought. Reuters added that Zimbabwe's staple maize harvest is expected to halve to 1.1 million tons in 2024 due to the drought, flagging a huge grain deficit that threatens food security in poor households. Phys.org reported that frequent droughts—interspersed with floods—have become the new norm in eastern East Africa over the past few years, driving a massive food security crisis. In 2020, the Horn of Africa entered its longest and most severe dry spell in more than 70 years, and 2022 marked the driest springtime drought on record. More than 20 million people experienced extreme hunger because of failed harvests, and there were more than 9 million livestock deaths.

Western and northern parts of Australia were drier than normal in December 2023, while south central to eastern coastal areas were wetter than normal. This precipitation anomaly pattern persisted at the 2- to 3-month time scales, except for dryness across the extreme southeast (Tasmania), based on the SPI maps. Severe dryness continued in the west with areas of dryness expanding in the east at 6- to 12-month time scales. Wet conditions dominated at longer time scales (24-48 months) except in the southwest and parts of the north. Monthly temperatures were warmer than normal across most of the continent, with December 2023 ranking fourth warmest in the 1910-2023 record according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). The Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) indicated enhanced evapotranspiration over western and some eastern areas due to warmth during December and previous months. The effect of the enhanced evapotranspiration shows up in the SPEI maps as more severe and widespread dryness at all time scales, compared to the SPI maps. Dry soils were evident across the western third of the continent, as well as Tasmania, according to GRACE soil moisture data. The GRACE data showed low groundwater in the west and parts of the east, plus Tasmania. Satellite observations (VHI) revealed stressed vegetation across most of the continent, especially the west to central regions. These moisture anomaly patterns were confirmed by Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Australian Combined Drought Indicator analyses, which also showed low streamflows along the west, east, and northern coasts, as well as interior Australia and Tasmania; some areas on the coasts had low water storage levels. The BoM ranked 2023 as the eighth warmest year on record. The year was drier than normal in western to central areas, much of the east, and some northern areas, based on the SPI and SPEI. Parts of New Zealand were in drought at the end of December, based on the New Zealand Drought Monitor map prepared by the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

In South America, El Niño-induced dryness continued across much of Brazil, with dry conditions also in southern and a few other northern parts of the continent. This precipitation anomaly pattern persisted at the 2- to 9-month time scales, according to the SPI. At longer time scales, the dry precipitation anomalies intensified in the south but decreased in coverage in the north. Severe dryness at 72 months was evident from Chile to southern Argentina, across western to southern parts of Brazil, and in Venezuela. The northern two-thirds of South America was warmer than normal this month, with December ranking record-warmest, continent-wide, according to NOAA/NCEI data. The continent has been persistently warm throughout the year, with each multi-month period from January-December through November-December being record warm. The ESI captured the enhanced evapotranspiration from northern Argentina to the Caribbean coast due to the unusually warm temperatures, and the SPEI reflected its effects with more severe and widespread areas of drought at all time scales compared to the SPI maps. Virtually the entire continent had some degree of dryness on the 48-month SPEI map. Satellite (GRACE) observations revealed extensive areas of low soil moisture across Brazil and countries to the north, and over the southern tip of South America; low groundwater was indicated on the GRACE map from Venezuela to Brazil and southern Peru to the southern tip of the continent. Satellite analysis revealed poor vegetative health stretching from eastern Brazil to northern Argentina and northern Chile. Drought was confirmed in Brazil on the Brazilian Drought Monitor, in Bolivia on the Bolivian Drought Monitor, in Chile and Argentina on Southern South America Drought Information System and Chilean Combined Drought Index maps, and in western South America countries on the Western South America Regional Drought Monitor. In 2023, South America had the warmest year on record, continent-wide, with scattered areas across the continent drier than normal for the year; the annual dryness was particularly acute, according to the SPI, in Brazil, Venezuela, and the southern parts of Argentina and Chile. According to media reports (La Prensa Latina), drought in Bolivia has impacted farmers on the island of Cojata in Lake Titicaca, with one 75-year-old farmer saying, “We have no crops because of the lack of rain, we had nothing all year.” AFP/Barron’s reported that drought in the region of Junin in central Peru has severe impacted farmers in Latin America’s biggest potato-producing region. Reuters found that Brazil's drought has delayed the soybean harvest and that hold-up may push back planning for the main corn season that follows it. The Brazilian Folha De S. Paulo media noted that the people in Alto Urupadi, a region of riverside communities in the Amazonian municipality of Maués, rely on the river, which provides them with fish; the forest, where they hunt and gather fruits; and the field, where they grow cassava and other tubers. All these alternatives were hindered, resulting in food insecurity for the people, by the historic drought that hit Amazonas in 2023, so severe that it killed dolphins and dried up rivers. Al Jazeera reported that the severe drought that has engulfed large swaths of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has ravaged the river’s ecosystem: all that remains of the Canaticu River in some areas is a dark brown trickle, laden with bacteria and almost completely dried up.

In North America, December was drier than normal across much of Canada; southwestern, southeastern, and north central parts of the contiguous United States (CONUS); and parts of northern Mexico. Parts of Mexico to Central America, the eastern seaboard of the U.S., the southern Plains to Upper Mississippi River Valley, and parts of Alaska and northern Canada were wetter than normal. This precipitation anomaly pattern was evident on the SPI maps at the 2- to 3-month time scales, but at 6 to 12 months much of the area from Central America to the southern U.S. was drier than normal, with the dryness expanding across the entire Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. At longer time scales, much of Central America to Mexico was drier than normal, while dryness in the southern U.S. and Great Plains at 24 months shifted to the western CONUS by 60 months. Most of Canada was drier than normal for most of the last 72 months, with dryness being most severe in the Prairies at 1 to 3 years. Almost all of Canada and the CONUS was much warmer than normal, giving North America the warmest December in the NOAA/NCEI record, continent-wide. Excessive warmth during previous months resulted in record warmth for all of the multi-month periods from January-December through November-December. The record heat increased evapotranspiration, and this is reflected in the SPEI which shows more severe and widespread areas of drought at all time scales compared to the SPI maps. According to NOAA/NCEI national analyses, the CONUS had the warmest and 54th wettest (76th driest) December in the 1895-2023 record, with moderate to exceptional drought covering 33.0% of the nation, which is less than a month ago. CONAGUA/SMN ranked December 2023 as the 28th warmest December since 1953 and the 31st wettest December in records dating back to 1941; moderate to exceptional drought covered 54.8% of Mexico at the end of December, which is a little more than a month ago. In Canada, 70% of the country was classified as Abnormally Dry (D0) or in Moderate to Exceptional Drought (D1-D4), which is a slight decrease from last month. Satellite (GRACE) observations revealed extensive areas of low groundwater across most of western Canada and parts of eastern Canada, the southwestern U.S. to the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, and much of Mexico to Central America. GRACE observations of soil moisture indicated dry soils across those same areas of Canada, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Mississippi Valley to Mid-Atlantic coast in the CONUS. Satellite analysis indicated poor vegetative health across most of Canada, much of the CONUS, and northern Mexico. The North American Drought Monitor product depicted drought across the U.S. Pacific Northwest to most of Canada, from the southwestern U.S. across much of Mexico, and from the Mississippi Valley to Appalachians and parts of the Plains in the CONUS. The Caribbean Regional Climate Center SPI maps showed areas of short-term (1 to 6 months) or long-term (12 to 24 months) dryness across parts of the Caribbean islands. In Canada, the AAFC (Agriculture and AgriFood Canada) reported that abnormally dry to drought conditions affected 81% of the country’s agricultural landscape, about the same as last month. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics indicated that drought affected approximately 16% of barley production in the U.S., 45% of corn production, 33% of cotton production, 36% of sorghum production, 50% of soybean production, 25% of spring wheat production, 32% of winter wheat production, 33% of hay acreage, 35% of the cattle inventory, 23% of the milk cow inventory, and 29% of the sheep inventory at the end of December. In 2023, North America had the warmest year on record, continent-wide, with drier-than-normal conditions for the year across most of Canada, the southwest U.S. into northwest Mexico, much of the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, and Central America to southern Mexico. According to media reports (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC]), wheat production across Canada is down this year, driven by almost 20% lower yields in Alberta after a brutal hot and dry growing season for many farmers. A new Statistics Canada report released in December stated that total wheat production fell nearly seven per cent, nationwide, in 2023, ending at 32 million tonnes. Alberta's environment minister was reaching out to municipalities asking them to find ways to use less water in 2024 in light of the province's drought. The CBC added that Alpine resorts across British Columbia say they are struggling with unusually low snow levels this ski season. They quote a researcher who said, “While experts say cyclical weather patterns are largely to blame for the warmer, drier winter so far, climate change likely plays a role and will continue to do so.” The Independent reported that the worst-ever drought on record continues at the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most prominent trade routes, impacting the canal’s water levels and continuing to cause delays within the global supply chain. Reuters and I News described some of the impacts. Reuters said that bulk grain shippers hauling crops from the U.S. Gulf Coast export hub to Asia are sailing longer routes and paying higher freight costs to avoid vessel congestion and record-high transit fees in the drought-hit Panama Canal, and that this is affecting demand for U.S. corn and soy suppliers. Reuters added, U.S. Gulf Coast refiners have reduced gasoline export prices to their lowest since 2021 because restrictions on shipping through the Panama Canal have left exporters unable to send as much of the motor fuel to international markets. I News said that British consumers are facing shortages and price rises for fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce in 2024 due to the worsening drought on the Panama Canal.


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Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Monthly Global Climate Report for December 2023, published online January 2024, retrieved on February 28, 2024 from https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/global/202312.