By Brian Kahn
March 8, 2017
A bonanza of heat records fell throughout February in almost all quarters of the U.S. and research released on Wednesday shows that this pervasive spring-like warmth was made possible by climate change.
The rise in planetary heat made the freakishly warm February up to 13 times more likely than it was around 120 years ago, according to the analysis by scientists working on the World Weather Attribution team. While it was a month to remember, by mid-century that type of heat could occur every three years unless carbon pollution is curtailed.
The warm spell is just the latest piece in a growing body of evidence that climate change is playing a role in almost all extreme heat events. Winter is the fastest warming season in the U.S. and February is no exception. February temperatures in particular have risen by 3°F since 1895, which is roughly twice as fast as the global average.
This February fits right in line with that trend. It was the second warmest on record for the U.S., trailing only 1954, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The U.S. average for February was 7.3°F above normal, the fifth-most anomalously warm month ever recorded. In all, 16 states had their warmest February on record from Texas to New York.
The heat drove a record-setting ratio of daily record highs vs. record lows and sped the arrival of spring in some areas by up to four weeks.
Scientists used historical data and climate models to understand what was driving the heat. Historical observations show that around 1900, this type of persistent heat was a 1-in-160 year event, but in our current climate it’s now a 1-in-12 year event. Using models to tease out the specific role climate change played, they found that it made the Ferbuary heat at least three times more likely.
If the world continues on its current pace of greenhouse gas emissions, this type of February could become the norm by 2050.
“Across the world we're finding that we can link unusually warm weather events to climate change,” said King, adding that climate change is almost certainly playing a role in almost all extreme heat “for most of the world.”