2020 Just Saw The Hottest September On Record

A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in the rugged terrain of California. David Aughenbaugh/Shutterstock

2020 has just been through the hottest September on record, narrowly beating the previous record that was set just last year, new data has revealed.

Scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, part of the European Union's Earth observation program, announced that September 2020 was globally on average 0.05°C (0.09°F) warmer than 2019 and 0.08°C (0.14°F) warmer than 2016, previously the first and second warmest Septembers since 1979 when records began.

From the West Coast wildfires to an aggressive Atlantic Hurricane season, the month was marked by an array of unusual weather events, including freakishly warm temperatures being logged along the coast of northern Siberia, in the Middle East, Australia, and parts of South America. September temperatures also reached a record high for Europe, where the average temperature was around 0.2°C (0.36°F) warmer than the previous warmest September in 2018.

This latest average global temperature record means that every month in 2020 so far has ranked in the top four warmest for that month on record. This trend suggests that 2020 is currently on the same path as 2016, the reigning warmest year on record

Monthly surface air temperature anomalies for all September months from 1900 to 2020, relative to the September average for the 1981-2010 reference period. Data source: GISTEMP (1900-2019), ERA5 (1950-2020). Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF. 

Whether it breaks this record will depend on how the next three months are guided by climate events such as La Niña, the cooling counterpart of El Niño–Southern Oscillation climate pattern. Some meteorologists have said there is a high probability that 2020 will trump 2016 becoming the first, or perhaps second, warmest year on record.

On top of this, the data from Copernicus shows levels of Arctic sea ice were at their second-lowest on record in September 2020. In any given year, September shows the lowest level of sea ice as the Arctic has endured the heat of the summer months. 

Copernicus uses modeling and data on surface air temperature to produce its findings. Along with the monthly reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it’s considered one of the most definitive records of the Earth’s climate and monthly surface air temperature anomalies. The NOAA is expected to release its findings on September’s temperatures in the next couple of weeks. Although its findings can subtly differ due to the different methods used, the two reports paint the same picture: Earth’s temperatures are undoubtedly on the rise. 

It’s also clear that human activity, namely in the form of greenhouse gas emissions, is driving this trend. Earth’s average global temperature is already over 1°C (1.8°F) above the pre-industrial period. The Paris Agreement argued that Earth’s temperatures need to be kept well below a 2°C (3.6°F) increase, but the world should pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Whether the planet will reach this target will, in short, depend on how seriously the world’s powers attempt to cut ties with fossil fuels and other big emitters of greenhouse gasses. 

According to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organisation, the outlook is not promising.

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