Dec 14, 2023 - Energy & Environment

NOAA "virtually certain" 2023 will be the warmest year on record

Map showing global average surface temperatures departures from average in November 2023. Image: NOAA.

With November ranking as the warmest such month on record, NOAA is projecting greater than 99.5% odds that this year will be the world's warmest since instrument records began in the 19th century.

Why it matters: The record, a result of both human-caused climate change and an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific, demonstrates how quickly and significantly the world is heating up.

Zoom in: November marked the sixth straight record-warm month in a row, and the year to date is running record warm as well.

  • The September to November period, which constitutes meteorological fall, ranked as the warmest on record, with average temperatures of a staggering 0.39°C (0.70°F) above the previous record, set in 2015.
  • Typically, such records are set by tiny fractions of a degree, making this year stand out.
  • Global ocean surface temperatures were record-warm for the eighth month in a row.
  • Record-warm temperatures covered nearly 13% of the world's surface this November, which NOAA says was the highest percentage for November since the start of such records in 1951. Less than 1% of the planet's surface was record cold for the month.

The intrigue: The record warm year and related extreme events served as a reminder of the urgency to act at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

  • There, diplomats struck an agreement that for the first time calls for countries to work together to transition away from burning fossil fuels for energy, which is the main cause of modern-day climate change.

What's next: A new El Niño forecast, also out Thursday, shows the highest odds yet (52%) that the ongoing event could reach the category of "historically strong," which would place it in the top 5 strongest El Niño's on record since the 1950s.

  • If that does happen, 2024 is even more likely to break the global annual temperature record to be set this year, because these events tend to spike global average temperatures on a time delay of a few months.
  • El Niño, which features unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial tropical Pacific, tends to boost global average temperatures further on top of the human-caused global warming trend.
Go deeper