March 2020 Temperature Update

The following is a summary of global temperature conditions in Berkeley Earth’s analysis of January to March of 2020.

Global Summary

Globally, March 2020 is estimated to have been the fourth warmest March since records began in 1850.  March 2020 was appreciably cooler than March 2016, and slightly cooler than March in 2017 and 2019. However, March 2020 remains warmer than all other March’s since global temperature estimates began in 1850. This follows the 2nd warmest February and 2nd warmest January.

The global mean temperature was 1.08 ± 0.06 °C (1.94 ± 0.11 °F) above the 1951 to 1980 average.

This is equivalent to being 1.47 ± 0.07 °C (2.65 ± 0.13 °F) above the 1850 to 1900 average, which is frequently used as a benchmark for the preindustrial period.

Temperature anomalies in March 2020 were little changed from those in January and February, and remain among the highest of the modern record.

Spatial Variation

March 2020 continues the ongoing pattern of wide-spread warmth. Very warm conditions were present across most of Asia, including record monthly averages for parts of western Asia. Very warm conditions were also present in most of the United States and Mexico, and record warmth across parts of South America.

Unusually cold conditions were present in parts of Canada, Antarctica, and India. We estimate that 5.6% of the Earth’s surface experienced their locally warmest March average, compared to only 0.01% that experienced a locally coldest March.

Over land regions, 2020 was the 4th warmest March, coming in as 1.81 ± 0.08 °C (3.26 ± 0.14 °F) above the 1951 to 1980 average.  It was the 2nd warmest March in the oceans, recorded as 0.66 ± 0.07 °C (1.18 ± 0.20 °F) above the 1951 to 1980 average.  The warmest March on both land and the oceans occurred in 2016, during a major El Niño event.

2020 January to March Summary

After 3 months, the Earth in 2020 has been marked by above average temperatures nearly everywhere, with especially extreme conditions across Asia. Cool conditions were present in parts of the Arctic and Antarctica. Both the unusually warm conditions in Asia and North America and the relatively cool conditions in parts of the Arctic were a consequence of an unusually strong polar vortex in the early part of the year that kept cold Arctic air bottled up near the North Pole. This also allowed for a modest recovery in the maximum extent Arctic sea ice, reaching only the 11th lowest extent in 2020, though this is still significantly smaller than the sea ice extents observed in the 1980s and 1990s.

The conditions in Russia during January to March 2020 warrant special consideration. A new record average for this period was set by more than 1 °C (1.8 °F) above the previous 2017 record, and nearly 6 °C (10.8 °F) above the 1951-1980 average. Though Russian weather during January to March is frequently quite variable from year-to-year, this year has been particularly extreme for its warmth. The warm weather has contributed to large early-season wildfires.

So far, none of the first three months in 2020 have been the warmest recorded, though all have been within the top 4 warmest. Overall, the January to March average has been the 2nd warmest. The warmest year, 2016, started with a massive El Niño event. It is remarkable that 2020 is approaching the same level of warmth despite the lack of El Niño conditions this year. Because Northern Hemisphere winter is the most variable season, we expect that temperatures over the second half of the year will be somewhat less anomalous than the January to March period.

As noted above, the start of 2020 has been extremely warm, but we expect some regression towards the long-term average during the rest of the year. This is important in the context of estimating the likely range for final temperature anomalies in 2020. The statistical approach that we use believes that 2020 is more likely than not to continue averaging a bit less than 2016, and revert towards a second or third place finish overall. However, it remains near certain that 2020 will be one of the 5 warmest years since 2020.

Likelihood of final 2020 ranking, based on January to March:

  • 1st place (25%)
  • 2nd place (30%)
  • 3rd place (35%)
  • 4th place (5%)
  • 5th place (4%)
  • Top 5 overall (>99%)

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