February 2021 was the 16th warmest February since global record keeping began in 1880, 0.65 degrees Celsius (1.17°F) above the 20th century average, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NCEI, reported March 12.

NASA rated the month as the 14th warmest February on record. The Japan Meteorological Agency has not yet released its February 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.

February 2021 was Earth’s coolest month (relative to average) since April 2015, according to the European Copernicus Climate Change Service, and the coolest February since 2014. This relative coolness was partially the result of a strong negative Arctic Oscillation (AO) during the first half of the month. In a negative AO phase, the jet stream weakens and meanders, creating larger troughs and ridges, allowing very cold Arctic air to spill southward over the mid-latitudes. The AO on February 10-11 was -5.3, which essentially ties February 5, 1978, and February 13, 1969, for the lowest February value on record.

According to NCEI’s annual temperature outlook, the year 2021 is 96% likely to rank among the 10 warmest years on record, and 85% likely to rank among the eight warmest years on record. In that latter case, each of the eight calendar years 2014 through 2021 would rank among the eight warmest years on record, dating back to 1880. The NCEI outlook finds that 2021 has just a 0.1% chance of displacing 2016 and 2020 as the warmest years 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.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for February 2021, the 16th-warmest February for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. North America had its coldest February since 1994, and the 20th coldest February in the regional 112-year record. Record-warm February temperatures were limited to parts of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black and Caspian seas, as well as parts of southern Asia, and across small parts of South America, the North and South Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. No portions of the globe were record-cold. (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)

Global ocean temperatures during February 2021 were the ninth warmest on record, and global land temperatures the 20th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in February 2021 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the seventh warmest in the 43-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Progression of ice coverage during the 2020-2021 season over the Great Lakes. The season began with unseasonably mild temperatures – as much as 8° Fahrenheit (4.5° Celsius) above normal through mid-January – but cold temperatures in February allowed peak ice coverage to reach near-average levels by late February. Rapid break-up of the thin ice ensued when the cold snap ended. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

February 2021: nineteenth coldest February on record in the U.S.

The U.S. experienced its nineteenth coldest February since records began in 1895, with six states experiencing a top-10 coldest February, according to NOAA. The coldest February since 1989 broke all-time cold records at seven U.S. sites and one Mexican site with long-term records (see below), and the cold air over the Great Lakes allowed surface ice cover to peak at near-average levels (Figure 2).

February precipitation over the contiguous U.S. was near average. North Carolina and South Carolina recorded a top-10 wettest February on record, but no states recorded a top-10 driest February. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 47% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought on March 11. Only one March since 2000 has had higher drought coverage – March 2013, with 53%.

The latest seasonal drought forecast from NOAA calls for drought to expand eastwards over a considerable portion of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas by June, but ease over a small portion of the Pacific Northwest. Drought is likely to be a major U.S. weather story in 2021, and causing what will probably be a multi-billion dollar weather disaster.

A warm winter for the U.S. and the globe

Despite the intense February cold wave, the winter (December-February) average for contiguous U.S. temperature was 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4°F) above average, ranking in the warmest third of U.S. winters on record. Three states had below-average winter temperatures, and 24 states were above average. The only state experiencing a top-10 warmest or coldest winter was Maine, which had its third-warmest winter on record.

Globally, the December-January-February period (winter in the Northern Hemisphere, summer in the Southern Hemisphere) was the eighth warmest on record.

Pedestrians walk on snow-covered expressway in Austin, Texas
Figure 3. Pedestrians walk on a snow-covered expressway in Austin, Texas, on February 16, 2021. (Image credit: Texas DOT, Austin)

One billion-dollar weather disaster in February

A single billion-dollar weather disaster affected Earth in February 2021: a disastrous winter weather onslaught over the central U.S., which brought heavy snow, freezing rain, and severe cold February 12-20, killing at least 70 people and causing damages that will well exceed $10 billion, according to insurance broker Aon. The final cost of the event will likely make it the most expensive winter weather disaster in world history, surpassing the $10.1 billion (2020 dollars) of the 1993 “Storm of the Century” in the eastern U.S.

Three billion-dollar weather disasters through February

Through the end of February, Earth had experienced three billion-dollar weather disasters for the year, according to Aon:

1. Winter weather, U.S., Feb. 12-20, $10+ billion, 70 killed;
2. Winter weather, Spain, Jan. 8-12, $1.8 billion, four killed; and
3. Flooding, Western U.S., Jan. 24-29, $1.5 billion, two killed.

Figure 4
Figure 4. 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 0.2-0.8°C below average over the past month, close to the 0.5 degrees Celsius below average threshold for weak La Niña conditions. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

La Niña weakens; expected to dissipate by June

Weak La Niña conditions remained in place during February 2021, and NOAA continued its La Niña advisory in a March 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 ranged between 0.2-0.8 degrees Celsius below average. The range for “weak” La Niña conditions 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” by summer (60% chance during April-May-June), and remain neutral during the summer. The forecast is more uncertain for the fall (September-October-November), with a 45-50% chance for La Niña, 40-45% chance for ENSO-Neutral, and a low chance for El Niño. Historically, about half of all La Niña events have continued into a second year.

Arctic sea ice: seventh lowest February extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during February 2021 was the seventh lowest in the 43-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent (https://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index) reached its annual minimum on February 21, and was the 12th lowest in the 43-year satellite record.

Notable global heat and cold marks for February 2021

– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 43.0°C (109.4°F) at Los Pinzanes, Mexico, February 24;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -59.2°C (-74.6°F) at Geo Summit, Greenland, February 3;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 47.1°C (116.8°F) at Vioolsdrif, South Africa, February 9;
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -61.8°C (-79.2°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, February 25;
– Highest 2021 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-Feb. 28) worldwide: 32.6°C (90.7°F) at Marble Bar, Australia; and
– Highest 2021 average temperature to date (Jan. 1-Feb. 28) in the Northern Hemisphere: 30.4°C (86.7°F) at Kenieba, Mali.

(Courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera)

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

Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, 10 set, not just tied, a new all-time cold record in February, and two stations set all-time heat records:

– El Bolson (Argentina) max. 38.2°C, February 5;
– Sontra (Germany) min. -25.6°C, February 10;
– Bukk Fennsic (Hungary) min. -35.5°C, February 13: New national record low in Hungary (unofficial, recorded in a sinkhole);
– Bottineau (North Dakota, USA) min. -46.1°C, February 13;
– Monclova (Mexico) min. -10.0°C, February 15;
– Limon (Colorado, USA) min. -33.3°C, February 15;
– Columbus (Nebraska, USA) min. -35.6°C, February 16;
– York (Nebraska, USA) min. -36.7°C, February 16;
– Superior (Nebraska, USA) min. -36.1°C, February 16;
– Osceola (Nebraska, USA) min. -35.0°C, February 16;
– Lincoln (Nebraska, USA) min. -36.7°C, February 16; and
– Puerto Williams (Chile) max. 26.1°C, February 27.

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

As of March 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 Raknah, January 9.

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

Twenty-two monthly national/territorial heat records beaten or tied as of February 28

– January (10): Mexico, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Japan, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Spain
– February (12): Iraq, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden, Pakistan, Northern Mariana Islands

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


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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...

4 replies on “February 2021 was the 16th-warmest February on record, NOAA reports”

  1. Exceptional warmth in March here in Chicagoland, portends a reduction in maple syrup, as the sap is not flowing, and we already have nights without freezing.
    Freeze-thaw makes the sap flow. Nights above freezing= no sap.

  2. Thank You Dr. for the excellent recap of the stats. In terms of the February cold dome over a large part of the US, the references to cool US Februaries in 2014/2015 jives with the very modest Winter/Springs we have had in many parts of the US before then and since those two years with some deep Jan-Feb warm anomalies in the other years over about the past 10-12 years.

    Relative to your breakdown as to current Enso stats and the currently waning La Nina, the possibility of Enso Neutral, or a La Nina bias, by the time we get to the peak Atlantic Hurricane season in August and September (low chance of an El Nino), means that we might see another average to above-average season again in 2021………..The end of the current “active” Atlantic AMO phase, that started in 1995, is nowhere in sight………………

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