January 2023 was Earth’s seventh-warmest January since global record-keeping began in 1880. It was 0.87 degree Celsius (1.57°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, NCEI, reported Feb. 14. NASA also rated January 2023 as the seventh-warmest January on record, 1.14 degrees Celsius (2.05°F) above the 1880-1920 period, which is its best estimate for when preindustrial temperatures occurred. January 2023 was the fourth-warmest January on record according to the Japan Meteorological Agency, and seventh-warmest, according to the European Copernicus Climate Change Service. Minor differences in the agencies’ rankings can result from the different ways they treat data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

Land areas had their ninth-warmest January on record in 2023, with global ocean temperatures the sixth-warmest, according to NOAA. Europe had its warmest January on record; North America, its fifth-warmest, and Africa, its sixth-warmest. Both Oceania and Asia experienced a warmer-than-average January, but it did not rank among either of their top 20 warmest on record.

The contiguous U.S. experienced its sixth-warmest January, with seven northeastern states notching their warmest January on record, and 19 other states recording a top-ten warmest January. Seven states recorded a top-ten wettest January on record: Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. With the first measurable snow of the winter not occurring until Feb. 1, 2023, New York City had its longest snowless streak since records began in 1869. Since only 0.4 inches fell on Feb. 1, the city has yet to record more than 0.5 inches of snow for more than a year.

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for January 2023, the seventh-warmest January for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record-warm January temperatures were observed over parts of southern South America, the southern and eastern central Atlantic, central Europe, and the southern Indian Ocean. Portions of Antarctica experienced record cold. (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)

La Niña weakens, expected to end soon

La Niña conditions weakened during January, and are expected to transition to neutral conditions in the next two months (85% chance during February-March-April), NOAA reported in its February monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. The official declaration of a change in state (e.g., from La Niña to neutral) typically lags the weekly and monthly observations, because it hinges on the status of running three-month averages. Predicting the exact timing of any potential switch to El Niño later this year is difficult, as we are approaching the “spring predictability barrier,” when forecasts of ENSO behavior are at their toughest.

In January, sea surface temperatures in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) were running 0.4-0.7 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.

NOAA’s and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society forecast for the peak portion of the Atlantic hurricane season (August-September-October) is for a 6% chance of La Niña, 34% chance of ENSO-neutral, and a 60% chance of El Niño. Atlantic hurricane seasons during El Niño events tend to be quiet, because of increased vertical wind shear over the Atlantic.

The impact of the current La Niña event has been boosted by an intensely negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (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, but January’s value was the least negative in nearly two years. When the PDO is negative, La Niña’s impacts are often more pronounced.

Arctic sea ice: 3rd-lowest January extent on record

Arctic sea ice extent during January 2023 was the third-lowest in the 44-year satellite record, and had the second-lowest extent by the end of the month, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). However, winter ice extent is a poor indicator of what the ice extent will be in summer and fall.

Antarctic sea ice: lowest on record

Antarctic sea ice extent in January was the lowest on record. Through the first half of February, ice extent remained at record lows, and by Feb. 14, it had broken the all-time seasonal low record set on Feb. 25, 2022 (see Tweet below). Low Antarctic sea ice is concerning, since formation of the ice helps drive an important ocean current system, the overturning thermohaline circulation, as explained in a Feb. 12 article at Inside Climate News.

Notable global heat and cold marks for January 2023

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

– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 41.2°C (106.2°F) at Garoua, Cameroon, Jan. 31;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -62.7°C (-80.9°F) at Tongulah, Russia, Jan. 18;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 49.3°C (120.7°F) at Onslow AP, Australia, Jan. 14; and
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -51.2°C (-60.2°F) at Concordia, Antarctica, Jan. 31.

Major weather stations in January: 3 all-time heat records, 27 all-time cold records

Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, three set, not just tied, an all-time heat record in January, and 27 stations set an all-time cold record:

Weddel Island (Falkland Islands, UK) max. 23.2°C, Jan. 7;
Maquinchao (Argentina) max. 39.0°C, Jan. 8;
Greymouth (New Zealand) max. 30.9°C, Jan. 8;
Turkmenabat (Turkmenistan) min. -25.4°C, Jan. 13;
La Jiquima (Cuba) min. 7.4°C, Jan. 16;
Guantánamo (Cuba) min. 9.9°C, Jan. 16;
Jinotega (Nicaragua) min. 8.6°C, Jan. 16;
Saidu Sharif (Pakistan) min. -4.0°C, Jan. 18;
Tongulah (Russia) min. -62.7°C, Jan. 18;
Aldan (Russia) min. -50.0°C, Jan. 20;
Huzhong (China) min. -49.8°C, Jan. 21;
Tahe (China) min. -47.9°C, Jan. 21;
Beijcun (China) min. -50.3°C, Jan. 22;
Xinlin (China) min. -48.3°C, Jan. 22;
Jintao (China) min. -53.0°C, Jan. 22:  New national record low for China;
Tobishima (Japan) min. -8.3°C, Jan. 24;
Matsumae (Japan) min. -11.6°C, Jan. 24;
Kousa (Japan) min. -9.0°C, Jan. 25;
Fuyuan (China) min. -42.4°C, Jan. 25;
Kuroiso (Japan) min. -13.3°C, Jan. 26;
Otawara (Japan) min. -16.4°C, Jan. 26;
Shioya (Japan) min. -13.5°C, Jan. 26;
Numata (Japan) min. -14.4°C, Jan. 26;
Ueda (Japan) min. -14.4°C, Jan. 26;
Yokkaichi (Japan) min. -8.2°C, Jan. 26;
Higashiomi (Japan) min. -12.3°C, Jan. 26;
Nagi (Japan) min. -16.8°C, Jan. 26;
Imaoka (Japan) min. -14.2°C, Jan. 26;
Jubilejnaja (Russia) min. -55.4°C, Jan. 27; and
Bibai (Japan) min. -29.6 °C, Jan. 30.

Two all-time national/territorial cold records set or tied in 2023

As of Jan. 31, 2023, two nations or territories had set or tied an all-time national cold record (the record for Myanmar tied a record, and thus does not appear in the station records list above, which is only for records that were beaten):

Myanmar: -6.0°C (21.2°F) at Hakha, Jan. 17 (tied); and
China: -53.0°C (-63.4°F) at Jintao, Jan. 22.

Thirteen monthly national/territorial heat records beaten or tied as of Jan. 31

Thirteen nations or territories have set monthly all-time heat records in 2023:

– Jan. 13: Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Cyprus, Nigeria

No additional all-time monthly cold records have been set so far in 2023.

Hemispherical and continental temperature records in 2023

– Lowest temperature reliably recorded in January in the Southern Hemisphere: -51.2°C (-60.2°F) at Concordia, Antarctica, Jan. 31.

Editor’s note: the record low for Myanmar was corrected from -21.2°F to 21.2°F.

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...