This year is on track to be one of the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also announced Thursday that last month had tied the previous record for the warmest May in recorded history.
Karin Gleason, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, said it’s “virtually certain” that 2020 will rank among the top five warmest years in the agency’s 141 years of climate records. The forecast is part of a wider trend of new and troubling climate records being set in recent years as the planet warms at an accelerated pace.
NOAA previously found that each of the past five years had been among the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. The current record was set in 2016, but the agency’s latest projections show that there is an almost 50 percent chance that 2020 could surpass that.
Already, the year-to-date period from January through May has been the second-warmest on record, Gleason said.
The planet also experienced a warmer-than-usual May. The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces last month was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit (0.95 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average. This ties May 2016 for the hottest May on record, according to NOAA.
It was the 44th consecutive May and the 425th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average, agency officials said.
In most of Asia, northern Africa, Alaska and the southwest contiguous United States, temperatures in May were at least 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C) higher than average. But the warm conditions were not uniform across the globe: Much of Canada, the eastern U.S, eastern Europe and Australia experienced a cooler-than-usual month, with temperatures at least 1.8 degrees F (1.0 degree C) below average.
In the contiguous U.S., the Great Plains region stretching to the East Coast had below-average temperatures for May. North Carolina, in particular, experienced its coldest May since 2005, Gleason said. But warmer-than-usual temperatures were recorded from the Pacific Northwest to Texas, with New Mexico and Arizona recording their fourth- and fifth-warmest Mays, respectively.
Despite the overall warming trend, May was a relatively quiet month for severe weather, according to NOAA. Though May is usually considered to be one of the most active months of the year for tornadoes, the agency recorded just 140 preliminary tornado reports, compared to 351 preliminary tornado reports in April.
“For a May, this is well below normal or what you would expect to see the number of storm reports,” said Patrick Marsh, chief of the science support branch at NOAA’s National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.