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July was the hottest month ever recorded, NOAA says

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It’s been a summer of sweltering heat waves and raging wildfires, and now it’s confirmed: July 2021 was the hottest month on Earth since record-keeping began. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the findings on Friday, calling it an “unenviable distinction” and part of a worsening trend related to climate change.

“In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” 

The findings come just days after the U.N. released a major international climate report documenting the “extreme” and “unprecedented” impacts of warming that are already being felt worldwide. 

According to data released by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the average worldwide land and ocean surface temperature in July was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the 20th century average of 60.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Official record-keeping of global temperatures began 142 years ago.

The high temperatures broke records in Asia, which had its hottest July ever recorded. Nine of the 10 warmest Julys in Asia have occurred since 2005, NOAA says. 

North America, South America, Africa and Oceania had temperatures making it one of the top 10 warmest Julys on record. Much of the western U.S. grappled with the region’s worst heat waves ever, and many states had their warmest July on record, the agency said. 

A map of the world plotted with some of the most significant climate events that occurred during July 2021.

NOAA NCEI

And the extreme heat continues in August. One day before NOAA’s announcement, Sicily hit nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, appearing to smash a European heat record. 

CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli said that NOAA’s news is not surprising. 

“This is part of the relentless drumbeat of climate change,” he said. “This is just the beginning — we will continue to systematically reach new unprecedented levels until we stop warming the planet.”

Berardelli noted that the fact that July 2021 was warmer than 2016 is significant because in 2016 a strong El Niño occurred, fueling unusually warm temperatures. The 2016 event was one of the strongest on record.

“But July 2021 surpassed that,” he said. “It illustrates just how fast humans are warming the climate by burning fossil fuels.” 

Among the latest findings, scientists also said sea ice in the Arctic had its fourth-smallest coverage for July in 43 years of record-keeping. The extent of the ice decreased by 1.14 million square miles in July alone, a loss of 36,800 square miles per day, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. NOAA also said that global tropical cyclone activity has been above normal so far this year. 

The agency said it remains “very likely” that 2021 will be among Earth’s top 10 warmest years on record. And without a concerted effort to curtail carbon emissions and slow climate change, extreme heat can only continue to be expected, as outlined in this week’s report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Scientists from across the globe delivered the most up-to-date assessment of the ways in which the climate is changing,” Spinrad said. “It is a sobering IPCC report that finds that human influence is, unequivocally, causing climate change, and it confirms the impacts are widespread and rapidly intensifying.”

Increasing temperatures not only drive more heat waves, they also contribute to more intense weather disasters of other kinds, including hurricanes and droughts. 


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