May 6, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Globe records its hottest April on record, with subtle signs of a shift

Line chart showing how 2024 global surface air temperature anomalies have far exceeded 1940-2023 anomalies compared to the preindustrial average. The anomaly was +1.66°C in January 2024, +1.77°C in February 2024 and +1.60°C in April 2024.
Data: ERA5; Chart: Axios Visuals

The globe recorded its hottest April on record, extending its record hot streak to 11 straight months, according to new data.

Why it matters: Temperatures on land and in the sea are having major impacts on people around the world, including ongoing, deadly heat in Southeast Asia.

  • Due mainly to a combination of an El Niño event and human-caused climate change, plus an unknown X-factor, this global heat streak has raised fears of breaching the Paris targets earlier than expected.
  • It has also sparked uncomfortable questions about the scientific understanding of warming rates.

Zoom in: Last month, global average surface temperatures were 1.6°C (2.88°F) above the preindustrial average, according to preliminary data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe.

  • This exceeded the most ambitious target laid out in the Paris Agreement, but only for a short period. The agreement's 1.5°C (2.6°F) aspirational target applies to multiple decades.
  • The world's oceans were hotter than in any previous April and extended that streak to 13 months, according to climate expert Brian Brettschneider.
  • In addition, April extended the duration of the warmest 12-month global running mean temperature on record.

The intrigue: This year marked the first time that the 12-month running mean eclipsed the 1.5°C target.

  • Climate scientists add weight to that metric rather than individual monthly milestones, since the latter can be caused by temporary fluctuations.

Yes, but: Month-to-month milestones do provide insights into what is influencing global average temperatures during the shorter term, and whether warming may be speeding up or slowing down.

  • Scientists are paying close attention to global average temperatures this summer, since there was more warming during 2023 into 2024 than what was expected from a combination of El Niño and human-caused climate change.

Between the lines: During the past year, global average temperatures have received a boost from El Niño, which is a natural climate cycle in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

  • However, that is now fading and is predicted to shift into a La Niña mode by early fall. This would feature below-average water temperatures in the tropical Pacific and may dampen global average temperatures.
  • Along those lines, 2024 temperature anomalies so far, while still running above last year's record-shattering levels, have been diminishing somewhat.

What's next: It is very likely that this year will wind up as either the hottest or second-hottest year on record, but that second-place finish is looking increasingly plausible.

  • NOAA will reveal its updated projection with its temperature data during the next two weeks, with data due out from NASA and Berkeley Earth as well.
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