January 2021 was the seventh warmest January since global record keeping began in 1880, 0.80 degrees Celsius (1.44°F) above the 20th century average, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NCEI, reported February 12.

NASA rated the month as the sixth warmest January on record, as did the European Copernicus Climate Change Service. The Japan Meteorological Agency has not yet released its January numbers. Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

According to NCEI’s annual temperature outlook, the year 2021 is 95% likely to rank among the eight warmest years on record: That would make each of the eight calendar years 2014 through 2021 one of the eight warmest years on record, dating back to 1880. The NCEI outlook finds that 2021 has just a 3% chance of displacing 2016 as the warmest year on record. The low expectations for a warmest-year-on-record reflect the presence of a La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific, which cools the planet slightly.

In its latest five-year climate outlook, issued in January, the UK Met Office had predicted that by 2025, “there is a small but increasing (~25%) chance of one year temporarily exceeding 1.5°C” above preindustrial levels. Global temperatures are now running about 1.1-1.3°C warmer than in preindustrial times, according to the various groups tracking this data.

Land and ocean temperature percentiles, January 2021
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for January 2021, the seventh-warmest January for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Africa had its warmest January on record, North America, its second-warmest. (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)

Global ocean temperatures during January 2021 were the eighth warmest on record, and global land temperatures were also the eighth warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in January 2021 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the 13th warmest in the 43-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville.

January 2021 the ninth warmest on record in the U.S.

The U.S. experienced its ninth warmest January on record, according to NOAA. Only 2.4% of the entire Great Lakes surface was covered by ice on January 24 – the smallest amount of coverage on that date in the past 48 years. January precipitation averaged over the contiguous U.S. was 2.01 inches (0.30 of an inch below average), which placed the month among the driest one-third on record. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 46% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought at the end of January, just 3% less than at the end of December 2020. The January drought coverage was the highest for the month since January 2013.

A single billion-dollar weather disaster in January

A single billion-dollar weather disaster affected Earth in January 2021: Windstorm Filomena in Spain, which brought heavy snow and severe cold to the country January 8-12, killing four and causing damages of nearly $2.2 billion to the city of Madrid. Additional damage in the tens of millions occurred to Spanish agriculture. The Spanish weather service reported between 50-60 cm (20-24 in) of accumulated snow from its weather stations within Madrid on January 9, making it the heaviest snow in the city since at least 1971. In the wake of Filomena, temperatures on January 12 plunged to -25 degrees Celsius (-13°F) in Molina de Aragón, Spain’s coldest temperature in 20 years.

Departure of sea surface temps graphic
Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperature (SST) from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). SSTs ranged from 0.65-1.05 degrees Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of weak La Niña conditions. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

La Niña weakens

La Niña conditions weakened slightly from December to January, transitioning from the moderate range to the weak range. NOAA nonetheless continued its La Niña advisory in a February 11 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or 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 averaged about 0.8 degrees Celsius below average. The range for “moderate” La Niña conditions is 1.0-1.5 degrees below average, and the “weak” range is 0.5-1.0 degrees below average.

Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society expect La Niña conditions to transition to “neutral” during the spring (60% chance during April-May-June). About half of all La Niña events continue into a second year, and the forecasters gave an approximately 50% chance that La Niña conditions would be present during the fall of 2021 (September-October-November).

Arctic sea ice: Sixth lowest January extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during January 2021 was the sixth lowest in the 43-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent in January 2021 was the 13th lowest in the 43-year satellite record.

Notable global heat and cold marks for January 2021

– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Andres Figueroa, Mexico, January 1 and 2;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -61.4°C (-78.5°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, January 29;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 47.1°C (116.8°F) at Reobourne, Australia, January 14;
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -44.1°C (-47.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, January 19;
– Highest 2021 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-31) worldwide: 33.9°C (93.0°F) at Roebourne, Australia; and
– Highest 2021 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-31) in the Northern Hemisphere: 30.0°C (86.0°F) at Navrongo, Ghana.

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)

Major weather stations’ new all-time heat or cold records in January 2021

Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, 34 set, not just tied, a new all-time cold record in January, and two stations set all-time heat records:

Vega de Liordes (Spain) min. -35.8°C, January 7: New national record low for Spain (unofficial, recorded in a sinkhole);
Huailai (China) min. -24.3°C, January 7;
Chengde (China) min. -27.2°C, January 7;
Xingtai (China) min. -17.1°C, January 7;
Zhangjiakou (China) min. -26.8°C, January 7;
Baoding (China) min. -22.0°C, January 7;
Datong (China) min. -31.1°C, January 7;
Mount Wutai (China) min. -32.8°C, January 7;
Naran Bulag (China) min. -39.2°C, January 7;
Jining (China) min. -30.0°C, January 7;
Chifeng (China) min. -29.5°C, January 7;
Shangdianzi (China) min. -26.5°C, January 7;
Tongzhou (China) min. -22.4°C, January 7;
Shunyi (China) min. -20.6°C, January 7;
Changping (China) min. -19.7°C, January 7;
Haenam (South Korea) min. -17.1°C, January 8;
Uljin (South Korea) min. -16.1°C, January 8;
Towada (Japan) min. -20.1°C, January 9;
Furue (Japan) min. -6.9°C, January 9;
Wakayanagi (Japan) min. -19.9°C, January 9;
Kawatabi (Japan) min. -14.3°C, January 9;
Komanoyu (Japan) min. -15.5°C, January 9;
Furukawa (Japan) min. -17.6°C, January 9;
Shiogama (Japan) min. -9.6°C, January 9;
Kamigori (Japan) min. -10.3°C, January 9;
Fukuwatari (Japan) min. -10.1°C, January 9;
Wake (Japan) min. -10.6°C, January 9;
Soeda (Japan) min. -7.5°C, January 9;
Yorii (Japan) min. -9.2°C, January 9;
Seosan (South Korea) min. -19.7°C, January 9;
Rakna (United Arab Emirates) min. -2.0°C, January 9: New national record low for the United Arab Emirates (for low-elevation places);
Ras Al Khaimah Airport (United Arab Emirates) min. 4.3°C, January 9;
Madrid Cuatro Vientos Airport (Spain) min. -13.0°C, January 12;
Madrid University (Spain) min. -11.0°C, January 12;
Maquinchao (Argentina) max. 38.9°C, January 22; and
Cipolletti (Argentina) max. 43.8°C, January 22.

One all-time national/territorial cold record set or tied in 2021

As of February 12, 2021, one nation or territory had set or tied an all-time national cold record:

United Arab Emirates (for places at low elevations): -2.0°C (28.4°F) at Rakna, January 9.

No all-time national/territorial heat records have been set thus far in 2021.

Ten monthly national/territorial heat records beaten or tied as of February 12

– January (10): Mexico, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Japan, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Spain
No national/territorial monthly cold records in addition to the one all-time national record in the UAE mentioned above have been set thus far in 2021.

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2021


Also see: NOAA names 2020 second-hottest year on record; NASA says it tied for hottest ever

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera. Note that Mr. Herrera is now on Twitter, and you can keep up with his remarkable statistics on his Extreme Temperatures Around The World Twitter handle.)

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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...

12 replies on “NOAA: January 2021 was ninth-warmest on record in the U.S., seventh-warmest globally”

  1. At least 2 400 cold temperature records broken or tied in the U.S. from February 12 to 16, 2021
      February 18, 2021 at 22:13 UTC (2 days ago)
     At least 2 400 preliminary daily cold temperature records, including cold maximums and minimums, were broken or tied at longer-term sites (75+ years of data) in the United States from February 12 to 16, 2021. The cold snap peaked from February 14 to 16. Another winter storm will affect a large area from Friday, February 19 — from the Lower Mississippi Valley into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
    Over just the past week, much of the Lower 48 has been punished with record-breaking cold and unusually heavy snow and ice, NWS Weather Prediction Center said.
    From the Pacific Northwest across the Rockies and into the Southern Plains and Midwest, the snowfall has been measured in feet. Ice and snow continue to plague Texas and the Northeast.

  2. well here around Tampa Bay, its been raining on and off all day long,sometimes very heavy and several thunderstorms too..had a tornado waring around 1:30 am or so..county rang the phone with an alert..by me I didnt see or hear anything outside of BOOMING thunder with that dangerous cell…hopefully the bad storms stay away, but NWS is mentioning the possibility tomorrow again…..only Good thing is…Febuary is supposed to be our DRY month..supposedly very lil or No rain this month…well That is out the window for sure THIS Febuary…might even set a new rainfall record if this keeps up thru the coming week………well be safe out there everyone..i see the Freezing temps happening around the USA..

  3. Yesterday we received 15″ of snow on a 1-4″ forecast. West of Lake Huron, north of Saginaw Bay. Crazy.

  4. Can the person who goes through and downvotes everything be banned? What a waste of energy, so stupid and futile.

  5. Suddenly we’re in a cold snap with plentiful snow. Today I would say that we have more snow and colder air for a couple of weeks at least (last week and next week), than we have had for at least twenty years. It would be interesting to know how much and how long.
    If it does hit 7° below zero tonight, that would be near record, too.
    Chicago metropolitan area.

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