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Assessing the Global Climate in March 2021

Eighth-warmest March for Globe; Arctic annual maximum sea ice extent tied as the seventh smallest

Picture of Regensburg, Germany
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The global temperature departure from average for March 2021 was the eighth highest for the month of March in the 142-year NOAA global temperature dataset record, which dates back to 1880. The year-to-date global surface temperature tied with 2007 as the ninth highest in the 142-year record at 1.37°F (0.76°C) above the 20th-century average of 54.1°F (12.3°C).


This monthly summary, developed by scientists at 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.


Global Temperature


The March 2021 global surface temperature was 1.53°F (0.85°C) above the 20th-century average of 54.9°F (12.7°C). This was the smallest March temperature departure since 2014 and the eighth highest for March in the 142-year record. March 2021 marked the 45th consecutive March and the 435th consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average.

The most notable warmer-than-average March 2021 temperatures of at least +3.6°F (+2.0°C) were present across southern and eastern Canada, the eastern half of the contiguous U.S., the Middle East, southern and eastern Asia, as well as parts of central Antarctica. Other notable temperature anomalies were present across parts of the northern and southern Pacific Ocean, where temperatures were at least 2.7°F (1.5°C) above average. 

The most notable cool temperature departures of −0.9°F (−0.5°C) or cooler during March were observed across Alaska, northern Canada, northwestern, north-central, and Far East Russia, and across parts of the southern oceans, the tropical Pacific Ocean and Australia.

Regionally, North America and Asia had a March temperature that ranked among the 10 highest on record. Meanwhile, Oceania and the Hawaiian region had their smallest March temperature departure since 2012 and 2013, respectively.


Sea Ice and Snow Cover 

The March average Arctic sea ice extent of 5.65 million square miles was 305,000 square miles (5.1 percent) below the 1981-2010 average and the ninth-smallest March extent in the 43-year record, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) using data from NOAA and NASA. According to preliminary data, the Arctic sea ice reached its annual maximum extent of 5.70 million square miles on March 21, 2021. This was 336,000 square miles below average and tied with 2007 as the seventh-smallest annual maximum extent on record.

The Antarctic sea ice extent during March 2021 was the largest for March since 2015 and the 10th largest since records began in 1979 at 160,000 square miles (10.4 percent) above the 1981-2010 average. The NSIDC stated that the Antarctic sea ice extent grew rapidly after reaching its annual minimum extent on February 21. During February 25-March 8, the sea ice extent grew by over 386,000 square miles, which is the fastest growth for this time of year on record.

March 2021 Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent (Courtesy of NOAA-NCEI)


According to data from NOAA and analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during March was below average at 590,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average and was the 12th-smallest March extent on record. The North American snow cover extent was the ninth smallest on record, while Eurasia had its 14th-smallest March snow cover extent on record.

For a more complete summary of climate conditions and events, see our March 2021 Global Climate Report.