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Assessing the Global Climate in 2020

2020 was the second-warmest year on record for the globe

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The globally averaged temperature departure from average over land and ocean surfaces for 2020 was the second highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. December’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average for 2020 was the eighth highest in the 141-year record.

This summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

2020 Global Significant Climate Events Map

 

In a separate analysis of global temperature data, released today, Copernicus and NASA have 2020 tying with 2016 as the warmest year on record.  Analyses from the WMO and the United Kingdom Met Office ranked 2020 among the top-three warmest years on record.
 

Global Climate Highlights: 2020

2020 Global Land and Ocean Temperature Percentiles Map

 

  • Global land and ocean surface temperature: For 2020, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.76°F (0.98°C) above the 20th-century average. This was the second highest among all years in the 1880-2020 record and just 0.04°F (0.02°C) shy of tying the record value set in 2016.
    • 2020 marks the 44th consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average. 
    • The seven warmest years have occurred since 2014; the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005. The year 1998 is no longer among the 10 warmest years on record, currently ranking as the 11th-warmest year in the 141-year record.
    • The annual global land and ocean temperature has increased at an average rate of +0.14°F (+0.08°C) per decade since 1880; however, since 1981 the average rate of increase is more than twice that rate (+0.32°F / +0.18°C).
    • The decadal global land and ocean surface temperature anomaly for 2011-2020 was the warmest on record for the globe, with a temperature departure of +1.48°F (+0.82°C). This surpassed the previous decadal record anomaly of +1.12°F (+0.62°C) set in 2001-2010.
    • For the 21-year span that is considered a reasonable surrogate for pre-industrial conditions (1880–1900), the 2020 global land and ocean temperature was 2.14°F (1.19°C) above the average. 
    • The 2020 Northern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature was the highest in the 141-year record at 2.30°F (1.28°C) above the 20th century average. Meanwhile, the annual Southern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature was the fifth highest on record.
  • Global land surface temperature: The globally averaged land surface temperature for 2020 was 2.86°F (1.59°C) above the 20th-century average — the highest among all years in the 141-year record and surpassing the previous record set in 2016 by 0.09°F (0.05°C). The six highest global land temperature departures have occurred since 2015, with the 10 highest occurring since 2005.
    • Record high annual temperatures over land surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, northern Africa, southern North America and South America. No land areas were record cold for the year. 
    • The annual average temperature departures from average for Europe and Asia were each the warmest on record. This year marked the first time Europe and Asia had a temperature departure from average above 3.6°F (2.0°C). South America and the Caribbean region had their second-warmest year on record, while Africa and Oceania had their fourth-warmest year on record. North America had its 10th-warmest year on record.
  • Global sea surface temperature: The 2020 globally averaged sea surface temperature was the third highest on record, with a temperature departure from average of 1.37°F (0.76°C) above the 20th-century average. Only the years of 2016 and 2019 were warmer.
    • Record high sea surface temperatures were observed across parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. No ocean areas were record cold for the year. 
  • Global ocean heat content: The upper ocean heat content, which addresses the amount of heat stored in the 0-2000 meters depth of the ocean, in 2020 was slightly higher, but relatively unchanged, from 2019, the previous highest annual OHC on record.
2020 Global Land and Ocean Temperature Departures from Average Map

 

2020 Snow and Sea Ice Information

  • Northern Hemisphere snow cover: According to NOAA data analyzed by the  Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average annual Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent for 2020 was 9.31 million square miles. This was the fourth-smallest annual snow cover extent in the 1967-2020 record.
  • Arctic sea ice extent: Recent trends in the decline of Arctic sea ice extent continued in 2020. The monthly Arctic sea ice extents for each month from April through December  ranked among the four smallest extents for each respective month, with record low extents set in the months of July and October. When averaging monthly data from the  National Snow and Ice Data Center, the average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was approximately 3.93 million square miles and tied with 2016 as the smallest annual average sea ice extent in the 1979-2020 record. The five smallest Arctic annual extents have occurred in the last five years (2016-20).
  • Antarctic sea ice extent: The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was near average at 4.44 million square miles. The months of January and July had a monthly extent that ranked among the 10 smallest for their respective months. No month had a record low or high sea ice extent during 2020. 

2020 Global Tropical Cyclones

  • A total of 103 named storms occurred during 2020 around the globe, which ties the record set in 2018. Despite the record number of named storms, the 45 hurricane-strength and 21 major hurricane-strength tropical cyclones were both near their 1981-2010 mean values. The accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), which measures the strength and duration of tropical storms and hurricanes, was 25 percent below normal and the fifth lowest since 1981. The North Atlantic played an unusually large role in the global tropical cyclone activity in 2020. The North Atlantic accounted for about 30 percent of the global ACE and named storms, which is more than twice its usual share.

Global Climate Highlights: December 2020 

December 2020 Land and Ocean Temperature Percentiles Map

 

  • Global land and ocean surface temperature: For December, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.40°F (0.78°C) above the 20th-century average. This value was the eighth-highest temperature departure from average for December in the 1880-2020 record. This was also the smallest monthly temperature departure during 2020.
  • Global land surface temperature: For December, the globally averaged land surface temperature was 2.29°F (1.27°C) above the 20th-century average — also the eighth-warmest December in the 1880-2020 record.
  • Global ocean surface temperature: The December 2020 globally averaged sea surface temperature was 1.06°F (0.59°C) above the 20th-century average. This was also the eighth-highest temperature departure from average for December in the 141-year record. 
December 2020 Land and Ocean Temperature Departures from Average

 

Snow and Sea Ice

December 2020 Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice Extent
December 2020 Arctic (left) and Antarctic (right) sea ice extent (Courtesy of NOAA-NCEI)

 

  • Northern Hemisphere snow cover:According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during December was slightly below average at 110,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average. 
  • Arctic sea ice extent: The average Arctic sea ice extent for December was 4.54 million square miles, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) based on data from NOAA and NASA. This value was 8.3 percent smaller than the 1981-2010 average and the third smallest December sea ice extent since records began in 1979. Only Decembers of 2016 and 2017 had a smaller extent. December 2020 marked the 23rd consecutive December with below-average sea ice extent. According to NSIDC, sea ice was below average in the Bering and Barent seas. 
  • Antarctic sea ice extent: Antarctic sea ice extent during December was 4.03 million square miles, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This value is near the 1981-2010 average.

A more complete summary of climate conditions and events can be found at: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2020/13


 

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