Record-setting heat in 2023 has continued into 2024, with heat records on land and sea already broken during the year's first month.
According to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service, January 2024 was the world's warmest January on record.
"2024 starts with another record-breaking month – not only is it the warmest January on record, but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5°C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial reference period," said Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, in a statement.
January marks the eighth month in a row that has been the warmest on record.
How much warmer were air temperatures?
January 2024's global average air temperature was 55.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That comes in 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit over the 1991-2000 January average and 2.98 degrees warmer than the estimated pre-industrial average (accepted as the average from 1850-1900). January 2024 also beat the previous January record, from 2020, by 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit.
The red shows areas warmer than average for January 2024 while the blue shows colder than average. Average is 1991-2020. One degree Celsius is equal to 1.8 degrees Farenheit. (Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF / FOX Weather)
January's 2024 temperature anomaly was lower than the previous 6 months of per-monthly differences when compared to the 1991-2020 average. But C3S noted that the anomaly was higher than any before July 2023.
While much of the U.S. shivered in an arctic blast for much of January, Southern Europe, eastern Canada, northwestern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia sweltered with well above-normal temperatures.
How much warmer is too warm?
Yearly surface temperature compared to the 20th-century average from 1880–2023. Blue bars indicate cooler-than-average years; red bars show warmer-than-average years. (NOAAClimate.gov and NCEI)
Climate scientists and policymakers are keeping an eye on the difference, fearing that the 20-year average global temperature rise compared to the pre-industrial estimate would exceed an accepted 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) benchmark.
"The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic," said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. "It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet."
The countries that ratified the 2015 Paris Accord pledged to keep the number "well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels" and to attempt to "limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit)" above pre-industrial levels.
According to the U.N.’s recent climate assessment report, a 20-year average of the global mean temperature must exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) for the Paris agreement to be broken.
"A single year of exceedance above 1.5°C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period," said Leon Hermanson, Ph.D., of the United Kingdom Met Office.
Record-setting sea surface temperatures
A graph of the average sea surface temperature by month dating back to 1979. (Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF / FOX Weather)
Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also a January record at 69.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That exceeded the previous January average record, from 2016, by 0.47 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature only fell short of the warmest month ever, August 2023, by 0.018 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since Jan. 31, daily sea temps have broken all-time records, set on Aug. 23 and 24, 2023.
While Arctic sea ice extent was close to average, Antarctic sea ice was 18% below average. So January 2024 marks the sixth-lowest ice extent but well above the record low of January 2023, which was 31% below.