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Earth just had its hottest January in recorded history

The record highlights a worrisome trend as the planet continues to warm at an accelerated pace.
Image: Japan's Lack Of Snow Hits Ski Season
A woman and a child remove their snowboards next to patches of grass at a ski resort that has had to close a number of slopes because of a lack of snow in Minamiuonuma, Japan, on Jan. 30, 2020.Carl Court / Getty Images file

The planet experienced its hottest January in recorded history last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.

It was the 44th consecutive January, and the 421st consecutive month, with temperatures above the 20th century average, according to NOAA. The milestone is just the latest in a string of climate records set in recent years.

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces in January was the highest in NOAA’s 141 years of climate records, surpassing the 20th-century average of 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) by 2.05 degrees F (1.14 degrees C).

The new milestone highlights a worrisome trend as the planet continues to warm at an accelerated pace. The four warmest Januaries on record have all occurred since 2016, and the 10 warmest Januaries have occurred since 2002, according to NOAA.

Last month bested January 2016, which previously held the record for warmest January, by only 0.04 degrees F (0.02 degrees C).

Russia, Scandinavia and eastern Canada experienced the most dramatic warmer-than-usual conditions last month, with some of these regions seeing temperatures at least 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) above average. Conversely, most of Alaska and part of western Canada experienced cooler-than-usual temperatures in January.

The warm temperatures shrank Arctic sea ice to its eighth lowest January extent, with satellite records showing that Arctic sea ice coverage last month was 5.27 million square miles, or 5.3 percent below average.

Antarctic sea ice coverage also suffered, with its extent mapped at 1.74 million square miles, which is 9.8 percent below average.

Though there are several weeks left in the season, mild conditions across much of the United States could contribute to one of the country's warmest winters on record, according to NOAA. Scientists at the National Centers for Environmental Information also projected that, based on statistical analyses, 2020 is likely to rank among the five warmest years on record.

CORRECTION (Feb. 13, 2020, 1:15 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the increase in the average temperature this January compared to January 2016. It was 0.04 degrees Fahrenheit, not 9.94 degrees.