March 2022 was Earth’s fifth-warmest March since global record-keeping began in 1880, 0.95 degree Celsius (1.71°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NCEI, reported April 14. NASA rated March 2022 as tied for fifth-warmest March on record, 1.32 degrees Celsius (2.38°F) above the 1880-1920 period, which is its best estimate for when preindustrial temperatures last occurred. The Japan Meteorological Agency and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service also rated March 2022 as the fifth-warmest March on record. Minor differences in the agencies’ rankings can result from the different ways they treat data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for March 2022, the fifth-warmest March for the globe since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-warm March temperatures were observed in southern Asia, and parts of north and western Pacific Ocean, as well as parts of the Atlantic Ocean. No areas experienced record cold. (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)

Land areas had their eighth-warmest March on record in 2022, with global ocean temperatures the fifth-warmest on record, according to NOAA. Oceana had its fifth-warmest March on record, and Asia its ninth-warmest. The contiguous U.S. experienced temperatures that ranked in the warmest one-third of historical Marches.

The year-to-date global surface temperature was the fifth-highest on record, and the year 2022 is over 99% likely to rank among the 10 warmest years on record, and 40% likely to rank in the top five, NOAA said. If La Niña continues and/or recurs later this year (see below), the odds that 2022 would set a global heat record would be reduced.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced a mass bleaching event during March, the reef’s fourth such event since 2016, but the first ever to occur during La Niña conditions, which typically bring cooler waters to the reef. The bleached coral is stressed but not dead; the reef could survive this bleaching event if cooler waters arrive and persist, as occurred after the 2020 mass bleaching event.

Two billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2022

Earth had two billion-dollar weather disasters during the January-March period of 2022, according to the quarterly catastrophe recap from Aon: flooding in eastern Australia from late February through March, which did $4 billion in damage (see Tweet above), and Windstorm Eunice in central and western Europe, which did $4.1 billion in damage on February 18-19. Windstorm Eunice (see Tweet below) was Europe’s most destructive windstorm since Xynthia in 2010. Overall, global losses from weather-related disasters during the first quarter of 2022 were typical of what has occurred over the past five years.

A tree topples in Bude, England, during Windstorm Eunice.

The deadliest weather disaster of the first quarter of 2022 was flooding in Brazil on February 15, which triggered a landslide that killed 232 people in the Petropolis area. That tragic event has since been eclipsed by catastrophic flooding that occurred this week in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where at least 395 lives were lost when a stalled low-pressure system dumped torrential rains. Heavy rains are more likely in South Africa when, as currently, a La Niña event is present.

La Niña persists

La Niña conditions persisted during March and are expected to persist through the Northern Hemisphere summer (59% chance during June-August), with a 93% chance of either La Niña or neutral conditions thereafter, NOAA reported in its April monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.

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 about 0.8 degree Celsius below average. The range for “weak” La Niña conditions is 0.5-1.0 degree Celsius below average; the range for “moderate” La Niña conditions is 1.0-1.5 degrees Celsius below average.

Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Temperatures have ranged from 0.7-0.9 degree Celsius below average since mid-March. (Image credit: Tropical Tidbits)

The forecast from NOAA and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society for the peak portion of the Atlantic hurricane season (August-September-October) is for a 51% chance of La Niña, 42% chance of ENSO-neutral, and a 7% chance of El Niño. If it were to happen, a third consecutive northern winter with La Niña in 2022-23 would be unusual but not unprecedented: Three-year La Niña sequences occurred in 1973-76 and 1998-2001.

Atlantic hurricane seasons during El Niño events tend to be quiet, because of increased vertical wind shear over the Atlantic. With the current forecast calling for only a small chance of an El Niño, a seventh consecutive active Atlantic hurricane season likely will occur in 2022.

The impact of the current La Niña event may be boosted by an intensely negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. The PDO is an index of sea surface temperatures across the northeast and tropical Pacific Ocean that reflects some of the circulation aspects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. The PDO can swing sharply from month to month, but usually it leans positive (warm) or negative (cool) for a few years at a time. Nearly every month since 2017 has seen a negative PDO, and March’s value was the third lowest for any March since 1956. When the PDO is negative, La Niña’s impacts are often more pronounced.

Arctic sea ice: 9th-lowest March extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during March 2022 was the ninth lowest in the 44-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC. While this is relatively good news, sea ice extent has a large natural variability, and it is unlikely that the long-term decline in arctic sea ice has halted. In addition, late winter/early spring ice extent is a poor indicator of what the ice extent will be in summer and fall.

Antarctic sea ice extent in March was the second lowest on record, behind 2017. One of the most extreme heat waves in world history, caused by an atmospheric river, affected East Antarctica in mid-March. The heat wave appears to have set a new world record for the largest temperature excess above normal, 38.5 degrees Celsius (69.3°F), ever measured at an established weather station, at Antarctica’s Dome C on March 18. Fortunately, the heat wave had little impact on humans and did not cause significant melting of the ice sheet.

Notable global heat and cold marks for March 2022

The information below is courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera. Follow him on Twitter: @extremetemps:

– Hottest March temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 46.9°C (116.4°F) at Tempoal, Mexico, March 30;
– Coldest March temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -61.3°C (-78.3°F) at Summit, Greenland, March 21;
– Hottest March temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 47.1°C (116.8°F) at Roebourne, Australia, March 1, and Hopetun North, Australia, March 16;
– Coldest March temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -69.5°C (-93.1°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, March 29;
– Highest 2022 average temperature to date (Jan.-Mar.) in the Southern Hemisphere: 33.5°C (92.3°F) at Roebourne AP, Australia; and
– Highest 2022 average temperature to date (Jan.-Mar.) in the Northern Hemisphere: 31.7°C (89.1°F) at Tamale, Ghana.

Major weather stations in March: one all-time heat record, no all-time cold records

Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, one set, not just tied, an all-time heat record in March; no stations set an all-time cold record:

Farewell Split (New Zealand) max. 29.8°C, March 9

Three all-time national/territorial heat records set or tied in 2022

As of the end of March, three nations or territories had set or tied an all-time reliably measured national heat record:

Paraguay:  45.6°C (114.1°F) at Sombrero Hovy, January 1;
Australia:  50.7°C (123.3°F) at Onslow AP, January 13 (tie); and
Uruguay:  44.0°C (111.2°F) at Florida, January 14 (tie).

Two all-time national/territorial cold records set or tied in 2022

As of the end of March, two nations or territories had set or tied an all-time national cold record:

Montenegro: -33.4°C (-28.1°F) at Kosanica, January 25; and
Myanmar: -6.0°C (21.2°F) at Hakha, January 29 (tie).

Sixteen additional monthly national/territorial heat records beaten or tied as of the end of March

In addition to the three all-time national/territorial records listed above, 16 nations or territories have set monthly all-time heat records in 2022, for a total of 19 monthly all-time records:

– January (11): Mexico, USA, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Comoros, Mayotte, Maldives, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Montenegro
– February (2): Papua New Guinea, Pakistan
– March (3): Myanmar, Pakistan, Mauritius

Two additional monthly national/territorial cold records beaten or tied as of the end of March

In addition to the two all-time national/territorial records listed above, two nations or territories have set monthly all-time cold records in 2022, for a total of four monthly all-time records:

– March (2): Montenegro and Cyprus

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2022

– Highest temperature ever recorded in January in North America: 41.7°C (107.1°F) at Gallinas, Mexico, January 1;

– Highest temperature ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere (tie) and world record for highest temperature ever recorded in January: 50.7°C (123.3°F) at Onslow AP, Australia, January 13; and

– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in South America: 32.2°C (90.0°F) at Pampa del Infierno, Argentina, January 17.

– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in January in the Northern Hemisphere: 29.3°C (84.7°F) at Kenieba, Mali, on January 15 (and again on January 30).

Bob Henson contributed to this post.

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Jeff Masters

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...