Siberia fire
A wildfire in the Sakha Republic, Arctic Circle, Siberia, Russia creates smoke and pyrocumulus clouds on July 9, 2020. An all-time record heat in Siberia during June led to the Arctic's first-ever 38.0°C (100.4°F) temperature and helped drive massive wildfires. (Image credit: Copernicus Sentinel data via Pierre Markuse)

June 2020 was the planet’s third-warmest June since record-keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NCEI, July 13. NASA rated June as tied with 2019 for the warmest June on record. Minor differences in rankings often occur between NOAA and NASA, the result of the different techniques they use to handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

The year-to-date period of January-June was 1.07°C (1.93°F) above the 20th-century average, said NOAA, making it the second-warmest such period on record, just 0.05°C behind the record set in 2016. According to NCEI’s annual temperature outlook, the year 2020 has more than a 99.9% chance to rank among the five warmest years on record, and a 36% chance of being the warmest year on record. If so, calendar 2020 would make the past seven years the seven warmest on record.

Earth’s warmest 12-month period on record was July 2019 – June 2020 (tied with a period in 2015-16 when there was a very large El Niño event), according to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The July 8 forecast from the World Meteorological Organization gave a 24% chance that at least one of the coming five years will have a temperature 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels (the period 1850-1900).

Figure 1
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for June 2020. (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)

Role of human-caused warming underscored

Global temperature records are more likely to be set during the peak of the solar cycle and during strong El Niño events, because of the extra heat from the tropical Pacific Ocean given up to the atmosphere. The remarkable warmth of 2020 has come in the absence of an El Niño event and during the minimum of one of the weakest 11-year solar cycles in the past century, underscoring the dominant role human-caused global warming has in heating the planet.

Global ocean temperatures during May 2020 were the third-warmest on record, and global land temperatures were also the third warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in June 2020 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the third- or second-warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville and Remote Sensing Systems, respectively.

Three billion-dollar weather disasters in June 2020, 17 for first half of year

Three billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth in June, according to the June 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon:

Torrential June downpours inundated southeast China, leaving 106 people dead and causing at least $5.1 billion in damage. Among the hardest-hit areas were Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hubei, and Chongqing, where more than 250,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 309 river locations reached flood stage, and 891,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of cropland were submerged.

Severe thunderstorms in Calgary, Canada on June 13-14 brought damaging hail and flooding, causing damages of $1.25 billion – one of the costliest thunderstorm-related disasters in Canadian history. Thousands of homes and vehicles sustained significant damage and vast areas of agricultural land were severely impacted.

Drought affected western and northern China, causing damages estimated at $1 billion.

Earth had 17 billion-dollar weather disasters in the first six months of the year, including 10 in the U.S. from severe storms. (The Australian wildfires span the boundary between 2019-2020 and may end up being classified as a 2019 disaster rather than a 2020 disaster).

Here is the 2020 list of the 17 billion-dollar weather disasters through June, listed by dollars of damage, according to Aon:

1. Cyclone Amphan, India and Bangladesh, 5/15 – 5/22, $15 billion, 118 killed
2. Flooding, China, 5/29 – 7/1, $5.1 billion, 106 killed
3. Severe weather, Midwest, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., 4/10 – 4/14, $3.1 billion, 38 killed
4. Severe weather, Midwest, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., 4/6 – 4/9, $2.75 billion, zero killed
5. Windstorm Ciara, Western & Central Europe, 2/9 – 2/10, $2.3 billion, 14 killed
6. Wildfires and heat wave, Australia, 11/8 – 1/17, $2+ billion, 34 killed
7. Severe weather/Nashville tornado, Central and Eastern U.S., 3/2 – 3/5, $2.0 billion, 25 killed
8. Severe weather, Plains, Southeast, and Midwest U.S., 5/16 – 5/21, $1.5 billion, one killed
9. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., 3/27 – 3/30, $1.45 billion, zero killed
10. Severe weather, Australia, 1/18 – 1/20, $1.43 billion, zero killed
11. Severe weather, Rockies, Plains, and Midwest U.S., 5/20 – 5/24, $1.3 billion, two killed
12. Severe weather, Texas, 5/27 – 5/28, $1.3 billion, zero killed
13. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., 2/3 – 2/8, $1.25 billion, five killed
14. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., 1/10 – 1/12, $1.2 billion, 12 killed
15. Flooding, Iran, 2/24 – 4/30, $1.2 billion, 23 killed
16. Severe weather, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., 4/21 – 4/24, $1.1 billion, seven killed
17. Drought, northern and western China, 1/1 – 7/30, $1.0 billion, zero killed

The deadliest weather event of June, monsoon flooding in India, killed 189 people. The deadliest weather event of the first half of 2020 has been flooding in East Africa from the “Long Rain” season, which runs from March through May. More than 500 people died in the floods. Kenya and Rwanda have been the hardest-hit, with 237 and 209 deaths, respectively.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Precipitation over a 30-day period ending July 8, 2020, totaled over 20 inches in portions of southeast China. The heavy rains caused $5.1 billion in flood damage – Earth’s most expensive June weather disaster. (Image credit: China National Climate Center)

NOAA issues La Niña watch

NOAA issued the year’s first La Niña Watch in its July 9 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Over the past month, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) have been near-average, falling well short of the 0.5°C below-average threshold for La Niña conditions.

Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are calling for neutral conditions to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer. They put the odds of a La Niña’s forming during the autumn or winter between 50 and 55%, with a 50% chance of the event lasting through the winter.

The Tweet below by Steve Bowen of Aon shows U.S. landfalling hurricane activity by phase of ENSO:

Image of tweet

For the August-September-October peak of the hurricane season, the odds of El Niño were put at 3%, and the odds of a La Niña event at 50% (an increase from the 30% estimated two months ago). Atlantic hurricane seasons tend to be much more active during La Niña conditions than during El Niño conditions, because weaker upper-level winds create less wind shear. During La Niña events, the U.S. East Coast from Georgia to Maine experiences much higher landfall frequency than in ENSO-neutral years, according to a 2007 paper.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) ending on July 13, 2020. Over the past month, SSTs were near average – neutral conditions. (Image credit: Levi Cowan,

Arctic sea ice: third lowest June extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during June 2020 was the third lowest in the 42-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The record low for June occurred in 2016. At the end of June 2020, an unusually intense area of high pressure developed over the North Pole, bringing clear skies and record melting of sea ice. By July 5, Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record for the date, and record low daily extents have continued through July 13. Late June into early July is typically the period of most rapid sea ice loss in the Arctic.

The sea ice is particularly low along Russia’s Siberian coast, where temperatures in June were more than 5°C (8°F) above average. The Siberian heat reached an extraordinary 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Verkhoyansk, Russia on June 20 – the highest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle. Verkhoyansk also shares the official Northern Hemisphere record for coldest temperature ever measured: -67.8°C (-90.0°F) on 5 February, 1892.

June heat was also pronounced over Greenland, where a significant melting event began on 21 June and ended on July 3.

Antarctic sea ice extent in June 2020 was slightly below the 1981-2010 average. Research published on June 29 in Nature Climate Change found that the South Pole is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet, with surface air temperatures rising three times faster than the global average since the 1990s. The authors of that research said it is likely that human-caused warming contributed to the warming, though natural climate fluctuations alone could account for the warming.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Departure of temperature from average over Arctic Siberia during June from 1950-2020. (Image credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service)

Notable global heat and cold marks for June 2020:
– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 51.0°C (123.8°F) at Jacobabad, Pakistan, 16 June
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -27.8°C (-18.0°F) at Summit, Greenland, 4 June
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Kleinberg, Namibia, 1 June
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -79.2°C (-110.6°F) at Concordia, Antarctica, 15 June
– Highest 2020 average temperature to date (1 Jan-30 June) worldwide: 33.5°C (92.3°F) at Yelimane, Mali
– Highest 2020 average temperature to date (1 Jan-30 June) in the Southern Hemisphere: 30.0°C (86.0°F) at Surabaya, Indonesia
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)

Major weather stations that set (not tied) new all-time heat or cold records in June 2020:
Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 11 set (not just tied) a new all-time heat record in June, and none set all-time cold records:

Male (Maldives) max. 34.9°C (94.8°F), 3 June
Raknah (United Arab Emirates) max. 50.0°C (122.0°F), 6 June
Al Ain (United Arab Emirates) max. 49.8°C (121.6°F), 6 June
Ciudad Obregon (Mexico) max. 47.0°C (116.6°F), 6 June
Sept iles (Canada) max. 36.6°C (97.9°F), 18 June
Charlo (Canada) max. 36.7°C (98.1°F), 18 June
Verkhoyansk (Russia) max. 38.0°C (100.4°F), 20 June
Forse (Sweden) max. 33.4°C (92.1°F), 25 June
Hedeviken (Sweden) max. 32.2°C (90.0°F), 25 June
Trondheim Airport (Norway) max. 34.3°C (93.7°F), 27 June
Eureka (Canada) max. 21.4°C (70.5°F), 27 June

Four all-time national/territorial heat records set or tied in 2020
As of July 13, 2020, four nations had set an all-time national heat record:
Colombia: 42.6°C (108.9°F) at Jerusalen, 19 February (tie)
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, 6 April
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, 10 April; broken again on 11 April with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on 12 April with 39.7°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas
Mayotte, France dependency: 36.4°C (97.5°F) at Trevani, 14 April
No all-time national cold records have been set thus far in 2020.
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)

62 additional monthly national/territorial heat records beaten or tied in 2020 as of July 14:

In addition to the four all-time national heat records, 62 other national monthly heat records have been set thus far in 2020, for a total of 66 national monthly heat records:

– January (13): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Cuba, British Indian Ocean Territory, Singapore
– February (12): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Switzerland, Maldives, Gambia, Russia, Seychelles, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands
– March (7): Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Seychelles, United States, Thailand, Northern Marianas Islands
– April (13): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemey, Honduras, Guernsey, Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, China, Saba, Northern Marianas Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands
-May (10): Niger, Greece, Saba, Cyprus, Solomon Islands, Turkey, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Chile, Uzbekistan
-June (5): Maldives, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, Kenya
– July (2): Mozambique, U.S. Virgin Islands

One monthly national cold record has been beaten or tied in 2020:
April: St. Eustatius
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)

Also see: Heat waves and climate change: Is there a connection?

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2020:
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, January 17.
– Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, January 21.
– Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, February 6.
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in Antarctica: 7.6°C (45.7°F) at Base Marambio, February 9.
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali on February 23.
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in April in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia on April 2.
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in Europe: 30.1°C (86.2°F) at Emponas, Greece on May 17.
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in North America: 35.0°C (95.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), May 28.
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the polar regions: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Verkhoyansk, Russia, June 20.
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera [])

*This piece was updated on July 16.

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Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...