Temperatures for the start of 2023 have remained above the 20th-century average, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency reported, as January and February brought unusually high temperatures to swaths of North America and wildfires to South America.
The warm weather fuelled the ferocious wildfires in Chile this month that have carried huge plumes of smoke across the Pacific Ocean.
New York and other areas of the north eastern US have experienced February daytime temperatures of up to 18C in recent days, following the country’s sixth warmest January on record. The states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also recorded their hottest Januaries ever.
“Dry weather, high temperatures and strong winds in the area are exacerbating the situation. There has been a corresponding spike in [carbon] emissions,” said the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.
“The severity of the situation is still unusual and surprising,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert at Copernicus.
Last year was marked by a series of extreme and devastating weather events, which scientists say will become more frequent and intense with every fraction of a degree of global warming. The world has already warmed by about 1.1C compared to pre-industrial levels.
This year has already brought unusual conditions. Europe had its warmest January on record, while Antarctic sea ice hit a record low for the month, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Record warm temperatures covered 3.6 per cent of the world’s surface” in January, the group said.
Despite the unseasonably warm weather in some parts of the country, the US national weather service warned of heavy snow, severe storms and possible flash flooding in parts of the central and southern US.
The prolonged drought across large parts of South America, meanwhile, has continued into this year, causing serious problems for the agricultural sector including crop failures.
At the same time, Africa has had its sixth warmest January on record and the World Meteroelogical Organization warned that the Horn of Africa was facing an unprecedented, three-year drought “with catastrophic humanitarian impacts”.
It said that another poor rainy season between March and May 2023, as forecast by some meteorological agencies, would have devastating consequences for communities.
A study by the World Weather Attribution group last week concluded that climate change was not the main driver of the reduced rainfall in large parts of Argentina and Uruguay last year, but noted that warming had increased temperatures in the region, which had probably worsened the effects of the drought.