August 2020 was the second-warmest August since global record keeping began in 1880, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, or NCEI, reported September 14.
The month was just 0.04 degrees Celsius behind the record set in August 2016. NASA rated the month as the third-warmest August on record, and the Japan Meteorological Agency rated it as the fourth-warmest August on record.
Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of the different techniques they use to handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
The eight months of January through August were 1.03 degrees Celsius (1.85°F) above the 20th-century average, NCEI said. This ranks as the second-warmest such period on record, only 0.05 degrees Celsius (0.09°F) 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. If so, calendar years 2014 through 2020 would be the seven warmest years on record.
The outlook finds that 2020 has a 40% chance of displacing 2016 as the warmest year on record. These odds are based on statistical relationships rather than unfolding weather and climate events. The La Niña event now in progress (see below) will make it less likely that 2020 will break the 2016 record.
Global temperature records are more likely to be set during the peak of the solar cycle and during strong El Niño events, when the extra heat from the tropical Pacific Ocean is given up to the atmosphere. The remarkable warmth of 2020 has come in the absence of a strong El Niño event and during the minimum of one of the weakest 11-year solar cycles in the past century, underscoring the dominant role of human-caused global warming in heating our planet.
Global ocean temperatures during August 2020 were the second-warmest on record, and global land temperatures the third-warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in August 2020 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the third-warmest or warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville and Remote Sensing Systems, respectively.
For the Northern Hemisphere, the three-month summer period of June, July, and August ranked as the warmest summer on record. The Caribbean region had its second-warmest summer on record, and North America and the globe as a whole, their third-warmest. Europe had its fourth-warmest, Africa, Asia, and Oceania their sixth-warmest June-July-August period on record.
Hottest reliably measured temperature in world recorded history in August
Death Valley, California, hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT, August 16, 2020, at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center. This reading was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the daily summary from NOAA.
According to weather records expert Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book “Extreme Weather,” and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle, Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016. The World Meteorological Organization is conducting a review of the site’s observing equipment. “If the observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this is a new reliably measured global extreme heat record,” Burt wrote by email. However, the official world record will remain a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913, a record widely viewed as bogus.
Climatologist William Reid, an expert on Death Valley meteorology who has written extensively about the old bogus 134-degree record, wrote that his early thinking is that the 130-degree reading on August 16 was authentic, but he cautioned that an increase in vegetation and structures built in the vicinity of the Furnace Creek site in recent decades has allowed the station to record hotter temperatures.
“An increase in vegetation and some man-made structures not too far south of the station have resulted in poorer ventilation through the station area. Since the station is above a bare and sandy surface, hot air along the ground during afternoon sunshine is less effectively mixed away from the instrumentation. The result is higher temperature readings during the afternoon comparably,” Reid wrote. “I figure that most summer maximums at Death Valley today are a couple of degrees higher because of the poorer station exposure. A day that hits 125 degrees today probably would have only been as high as 122-123 degrees before 1980.”
Eight billion-dollar weather disasters in August 2020; 28 for the year so far
Eight billion-dollar weather-related disasters hit the Earth last month, according to the August 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon. Details on each of those eight events follow.
– Torrential downpours continued to affect China in August, killing 92 people and damaging or destroying 310,000 houses. This brings the total damage between June 1 and August 31 from China’s monsoon flooding to $28 billion, with 267 deaths. According to statistics from EM-DAT, the international disaster database, this ranks as the third-most expensive non-U.S. weather disaster since accurate records began in 1990.
An August 2020 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “Each 0.5°C of Warming Increases Annual Flood Losses in China by More than US$60 Billion,” found that annual average flood losses in China during the period 1984-2018 were $19.2 billion (2015 dollars), which was 0.5% of China’s GDP. Annual flood losses increased to $25.3 billion annually during the period 2006-18. The study predicted that each additional 0.5 degree Celsius of global warming will increase China flood losses by $60 billion per year.
– Heavy monsoon rains severely affected 10 states in India in August, killing 600 people and causing $1 billion in damage. The total death toll from this year’s monsoon floods is 1,670, with economic losses of over $2 billion. This year’s total monsoon rainfall across India was running 6.8% above average as of September 14, according to the India Meteorological Department.
– Typhoon Hagupit made landfall near the Yueqing City of Zhejiang province in China on August 3 as a category 1 storm with 80 mph winds, causing widespread damage in eastern China. Hagupit also impacted Taipei in northern Taiwan where nearly 2,000 houses were damaged and one person was killed. Total damage in China and Taiwan was estimated at $1.5 billion.
Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Bahamas
– Hurricane Isaias, after bringing damaging flooding to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas, made landfall near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, on August 3 as a strengthening Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds. Isaias brought widespread wind and flood damage from the Carolinas into New England and spawned at least 39 confirmed tornadoes, including a deadly EF3 in North Carolina. At least 6.4 million homes and businesses lost power in the continental U.S., and another 400,000 lost power in Puerto Rico. Total economic losses in the continental U.S. were estimated at $5 billion, and 15 deaths were blamed on the storm. An additional $225 million in damage occurred in the Caribbean and Canada, with three deaths.
– A severe weather outbreak from August 8-12 in the U.S. Midwest featured a violent derecho that caused severe damage in Iowa and Illinois, killing four and causing $6.5 billion in damage. The derecho, which had a peak wind gust of 140 mph, was responsible for $5 billion of the damage.
– Hurricane Laura made landfall as a category 4 storm with 150 mph winds in Southwest Louisiana on August 27, killing 33 people and causing over $10 billion in damage. Catastrophic impacts occurred in Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes – including the City of Lake Charles – due to wind gusts over 100 mph, storm surge, and inland flooding.
– Record heat, low humidity, and widespread dry lightning spawned nearly 1,000 fires in California during the month of August, killing eight people and causing well over $1 billion in damage.
– Drought conditions over much of the Western U.S. worsened in August, bringing total drought damages in the nation to $1 billion for the year.
Through the end of August, Earth had 28 billion-dollar 2020 weather disasters, including 16 in the U.S. (the U.S. record is 20, set in 2017). 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 billion-dollar weather disasters through August, listed by dollars of damage, according to Aon:
1. Flooding, China, Jun.-Aug., $28 billion, 267 killed;
2. Cyclone Amphan, India and Bangladesh, May 15-22, $13 billion, 118 killed;
3. Hurricane Laura, U.S., Aug. 27-29, $10 billion, 33 killed;
4. Severe weather (derecho), Midwest U.S., Aug. 8-12, $6.5 billion, four killed;
5. Hurricane Isaias, U.S., Aug. 2-4, $5 billion, 15 killed;
6. Flooding, Japan, Jul. 3-10, $5 billion, 82 killed;
7. Severe weather, Midwest, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., Apr. 10-14, $3.45 billion, 38 killed;
8. Severe weather, Midwest, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., Apr. 6-9, $3.0 billion, zero killed;
9. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., Mar. 27-30, $2.9 billion, zero killed;
10. Windstorm Ciara, Western & Central Europe, Feb. 9-10, $2.6 billion, 14 killed;
11. Drought, northern and western China, Jan.-Aug., $2.4 billion, zero killed;
12. Severe weather/Nashville tornado, Central and Eastern U.S., Mar. 2-5, $2.4 billion, 25 killed;
13. Wildfires and Heatwave, Australia, Nov.-Jan., $2+ billion, 34 killed;
14. Flooding, India, Jun.-Aug., $2.0 billion, 1670 killed;
15. Severe weather, Plains, Southeast, and Midwest U.S., May 16-21, $1.9 billion, one killed;
16. Severe weather, Rockies, Plains, and Midwest U.S., May 20-24, $1.65 billion, two killed;
17. Severe weather, Australia, Jan. 18-20, $1.6 billion, zero killed;
18. Severe weather, Plains, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic U.S., Apr. 21-24, $1.55 billion, seven killed;
19. Severe weather, Texas, May 27-28, $1.55 billion, zero killed;
20. Typhoon Hagupit, China and Taiwan, Aug. 3-4, $1.5 billion, one killed;
21. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., Feb. 3-8, $1.5 billion, five killed;
22. Severe weather, Plains, Southeast, and Midwest U.S., May 4-5, $1.3 billion, zero killed;
23. Severe weather, Central and Eastern U.S., Jan. 10-12, $1.28 billion, 12 killed;
24. Severe weather, Canada, Jun. 13-14, $1.28 billion, zero killed;
25. Flooding, Iran, Feb. 24–Apr 30, $1.2 billion, 23 killed;
26. Severe weather, Australia, Feb. 2-11, $1.0 billion, zero killed;
27. Wildfires, California (U.S.), Aug. 5-31, $1.0 billion, eight killed; and
28. Drought, U.S., Jan.-Aug., $1.0 billion, zero killed.
A La Niña advisory issued
Over the past month, sea surface temperatures in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) were 0.7 degrees Celsius below average, with 0.5 degrees below-average being the threshold for weak La Niña conditions. The threshold for moderate La Niña conditions is 1.0 degrees Celsius below-average .
Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society favor La Niña conditions to continue through the winter (75% chance).
La Niña conditions favor active Atlantic hurricane seasons with higher-than-average U.S. landfalling hurricane activity, particularly along the U.S. East Coast north of Florida. Earth’s last La Niña event occurred between September 2017 and March 2018 and was a weak one. That said, the La Niña Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 was an exceptionally brutal one, with three destructive hurricanes that ranked in the top five for most expensive weather-related disasters in world history: Harvey ($128 billion), Maria ($92 billion) and Irma ($51 billion).
Arctic sea ice: third-lowest August extent on record, now close to all-time minimum
Arctic sea ice extent during August 2020 was the third-lowest in the 42-year satellite record, behind 2012 and 2019, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. But by August 23, Arctic sea ice extent fell below the 2019 mark, and was at the second-lowest extent on record between August 23 and September 14.
The all-time record for the lowest annual minimum is 3.387 million square kilometers, set on September 17, 2012. As of September 14, 2020, the sea ice extent appeared to be bottoming out, at 3.740 million square kilometers, making it likely that 2012 will continue to hold the record for lowest sea ice extent.
The sea ice was particularly scant along Russia’s Siberian coast, where the Northern Sea route has been open to ice-free navigation since mid-July. In the Canadian Arctic, the southern branch of the Northwest Passage (famed explorer Roald Amundsen’s route) was largely open, but some ice remained.
Antarctic sea ice extent in August 2020 was near-average.
Greenland’s summer: relatively normal for surface ice loss, but huge calving event
An excellent September 4 post at Carbon Brief, “How the Greenland ice sheet fared in 2020,” explained that, “unlike in 2019, Greenland has actually had a relatively ‘normal’ year with regard to ice changes at its surface. Yet losses via the breaking off of icebergs remain at the high end compared to the early years of the satellite record, which stretches back to the late 1970s.”
One casualty of years of above-average temperatures in northeast Greenland occurred this summer for the Arctic’s largest floating ice shelf, part of the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier called Spalte Glacier. The glacier calved a huge chunk of ice about twice the size of Manhattan Island (see the photos here).
“We should be very concerned about what appears to be progressive disintegration at the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf, because upstream it is the only major Greenland ice sheet ice stream, draining 16% of the inland ice reservoir,” said professor Jason Box from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. (Kudos to Steve Gregory for flagging this event)
Notable global heat and cold marks for August 2020
– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -34.1°C (-29.4°F) at Summit, Greenland, August 31;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 41.8°C (107.2°F) at Cuiaba, Brazil, August 30;
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -80.8°C (-113.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, August 16;
– Highest 2020 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-August 31) worldwide: 32.5°C (90.5°F) at Yelimane, Mali; and
– Highest 2020 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-August 31) in the Southern Hemisphere: 29.8°C (85.6°F) at Surabaya Airport, Indonesia.
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)
Major weather stations’ new all-time heat or cold records in August 2020
Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 89 set (not just tied) a new all-time heat record in August; most of these were in Japan. Remarkably, 14 of these stations broke their previous all-time record on multiple days. Two stations set all-time cold records:
Puy-St-Martin (France) max. 41.2°C, August 1;
King Khaled Airport (Saudi Arabia) max. 48.8°C, August 2;
Roseworthy (Australia) min. -3.6°C, August 5;
Keith (Australia) min. -4.7°C, August 5;
Shoreham (United Kingdom) max. 33.2°C, August 9;
Kamichi (Japan) max. 36.6°C, August 10;
Hari (Japan) max. 36.0°C, August 10;
Ouda (Japan) max. 36.5°C, August 10;
Utoro (Japan) max. 35.3°C, August 11;
Nosappu (Japan) max. 33.5°C, August 11;
Sumita (Japan) max. 36.7°C, August 11;
Kashimadai (Japan) max. 35.8°C, August 11;
Funehiki (Japan) max. 35.7°C, August 11;
Kawauchi (Japan) max. 36.5°C, August 11;
Higashi Shirakawa (Japan) max. 36.5°C, August 11;
Furukawa (Japan) max. 39.6°C, August 11;
Kanuma (Japan) max. 37.1°C, August 11;
Moka (Japan) max. 38.2°C, August 11;
Sano (Japan) max. 39.8 °C, August 11;
Oyama (Japan) max. 38.9°C, August 11;
Kusatsu (Japan) max. 31.3°C, August 11;
Numata (Japan) max. 38.1°C, August 11;
Nakanojo (Japan) max. 38.0°C, August 11;
Kiryu (Japan) max. 40.5°C, August 11;
Tonami (Japan) max. 37.4°C, August 11;
Nishino Maki (Japan) max. 39.2°C, August 11;
Hatoyama (Japan) max. 40.2°C, August 11;
Saijo (Japan) max. 37.8°C, August 14;
Nakamura (Japan) max. 39.8°C, August 14;
Miyakejima (Japan) max. 32.8°C, August 15;
Kawanehoncho (Japan) max. 39.6°C, August 15;
Kikugawa Makinohara (Japan) max. 37.4°C, August 15;
Matsuzaki (Japan) max. 37.0°C, August 15;
Gunge (Japan) max. 36.9°C, August 15;
Sumoto (Japan) max. 37.3°C, August 15; beaten again with 37.9°C on August 17;
Kamikitayama (Japan) max. 39.1°C, August 15; beaten again with 39.3°C on August 17;
Nishikawa (Japan) max. 37.8 °C, August 15; beaten again with 38.9°C on August 16;
Kuma (Japan) max. 35.8°C, August 15; beaten again with 36.5°C on August 17;
Mishou (Japan) max. 39.0°C, August 15;
Sukhumo (Japan) max. 39.5°C, August 15;
Takeda (Japan) max. 37.7°C, August 15;
Mikado (Japan) max. 38.1°C, August 15; beaten again with 39.2°C on August 18;
Kito (Japan) max. 38.5°C, August 15; beaten again with 39.0°C on August 16;
Death Valley (California, USA) max. 54.4°C, August 16: (New national record high for the United States (recorded under standard conditions);
Oshima (Japan) max. 35.9°C, August 16;
Tenryu (Japan) max. 40.9°C, August 16;
Hamamatsu (Japan) max. 40.2°C, August 16; beaten again with 41.1°C on August 17;
Shionomisaki (Japan) max. 36.1°C, August 16;
Otochi (Japan) max. 38.5°C, August 16;
Miyakonojo (Japan) max. 37.7°C, August 16; beaten again with 39.3°C on August 17 and with 39.4°C on August 18;
Shibushi (Japan) max. 36.7°C, August 16;
Gomen (Japan) max. 36.9°C, August 16;
Minamishinano (Japan) max. 39.5°C, August 17;
Ozu (Japan) max. 38.3°C, August 17;
Nishimera (Japan) max. 39.7°C, August 17;
Kakuto (Japan) max. 39.4°C, August 17;
Makinohara (Japan) max. 35.1°C, August 17;
Kihoku (Japan) max. 36.4°C, August 17;
Kanoya (Japan) max. 37.5°C, August 17; beaten again with 37.6°C on August 18;
Oguchi (Japan) max. 37.5°C, August 17; beaten again with 37.6°C on August 18;
Kimotsuki Maeda (Japan) max. 38.1°C, August 17; beaten again with 38.5°C on August 18;
Ibasuki (Japan) max. 36.4°C, August 17; beaten again with 36.8°C on August 18;
Kaminaka (Japan) max. 35.0°C, August 17;
Ue (Japan) max. 37.4°C, August 17;
Kitsuki (Japan) max. 37.4°C, August 18;
Kamae (Japan) max. 38.3°C, August 18;
Kuraoka (Japan) max. 35.2°C, August 18; beaten again with 35.6°C on August 19;
Satsuma Kashiwabara (Japan) max. 37.6°C, August 18;
Makurazaki (Japan) max. 36.9°C, August 18;
Tashiro (Japan) max. 35.7°C, August 18;
Wadayama (Japan) max. 37.9°C, August 19
Ikuno (Japan) max. 37.8°C, August 19; beaten again with 38.0°C on August 20;
Chaya (Japan) max. 34.9°C, August 19;
Minamioguni (Japan) max. 36.5°C, August 19;
Nagawa (Japan) max. 34.4°C, August 20;
Higashi Omi (Japan) max. 39.2°C, August 20;
Iizuka (Japan) max. 38.3°C, August 20;
Tatsuno (Japan) max. 36.3°C, August 20;
Miyama (Japan) max. 36.7°C, August 21;
Takahashi (Japan) max. 39.3°C, August 21;
Cap Camerat (France) max. 37.2 °C, August 26;
Rokugo (Japan) max. 35.3°C, August 28;
Towada (Japan) max. 32.8°C, August 28;
Erimomisaki (Japan) max. 26.7°C, August 29;
Hokuto (Japan) max. 34.0°C, August 29;
Naka Kineusu (Japan) max. 33.0°C, August 29;
Nishiwaki (Japan) max. 39.2°C, August 30;
Himeji (Japan) max. 38.0°C, August 31;
Athienou (Cyprus) max. 44.1°C, August 31; and
Prodromos (Cyprus) max. 37.0°C, August 31.
Eight all-time national/territorial heat records set or tied in 2020
As of September 15, 2020, eight nations had set or tied an all-time national heat record:
Colombia: 42.6°C (108.7°F) at Jerusalen, February 19 (tie);
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, April 6;
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, April 10; broken again April 11 with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on April 12 with 39.7°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas;
Mayotte, France department: 36.4°C (97.5°F) at Trevani, April 14;
Taiwan: 40.5°C (104.9°F) at Taimali Research Center, July 16;
Lebanon: 45.4°C (113.7°F) at Houche Al Oumara, July 27;
United States: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
Japan: 41.1°C (106.0°F) at Hamamatsu, August 17; and
Dominca: 35.7°C (96.3°F) at Canefield Airport, September 15.
No all-time national cold records have been set thus far in 2020.
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)
86 additional monthly national/territorial 2020 heat records beaten or tied as of September 15
In addition to the nine all-time national heat records, 86 other national monthly heat records have been set so far in 2020, for a total of 95 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 Mariana Islands;
April (14): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemey, Honduras, Guernsey, Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, China, Saba, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic;
May (10): Niger, Greece, Saba, Cyprus, Solomon Islands, Turkey, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Chile, Uzbekistan;
June (6): Maldives, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, Kenya, Ghana;
July (7): Mozambique, U.S. Virgin Islands, Laos, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Northern Mariana Islands;
August (5): Solomon Islands, Mexico, Australia, Cocos Islands, Paraguay; and
September (12): Laos, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Mexico, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg.
One monthly national/territorial cold record has been beaten or tied in 2020
April: St. Eustatius.
(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)
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 March in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali, February 23;
Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia, April 2;
Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in Europe: 30.1°C (86.2°F) at Emponas, Greece, 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;
Highest reliable temperature ever recorded on Earth: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
Highest reliable minimum temperature ever recorded in August in North America: 40.0°C (104.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), August 17; and
Highest temperature ever recorded in Australia and Oceana in August: 40.7°C (105.3°F) at Yampi Sound, Australia, August 22; beaten again with 41.2°C (106.2°F) at West Roebuck, Australia, on August 23.
Editor’s note: the post was updated on September 21 to add the all-time heat record for Dominica.
Posted on September 15, 2020 (2:57pm EDT).