July was the hottest month recorded on our planet.
Despite the cruise ship that's now plowing through a melting Arctic, or the wildfires that have consumed parts of North America, and devastating drought that's stricken in East Africa, it can still be easy to ignore sometimes that our climate is rapidly changing. But 2016 has been a remarkable year for record-breaking temperatures, and even in the midst of it, July stands out as the hottest month of all.
On Wednesday, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that July was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet, since modern record-keeping began in 1880.
NASA has reached the same conclusion. July smashed all previous records.
Keep in mind that July almost always stands out as the warmest month in a given year, across the planet. "July is, climatologically speaking, the world's warmest month of the year," NOAA climatologist Ahira Sanchez-Lugo told me in an interview. That's because the Northern hemisphere "has more landmass, and less ocean" than the South, she continued, and the land heats up more quickly.
But this July was the hottest month recorded on Earth, ever—beating the previous record, which was actually just set the July before.
Temperature records are falling like dominoes, month after month, year after year. Although July stands out, each consecutive month in 2016 has broken its own previous record (May was the hottest May, April the hottest April, etc.) Consider this:
June 2016 was the hottest on record.
So was May.
April smashed previous temperature records.
March did by a long shot.
"The streak of consecutive records started in May 2015," Sanchez-Lugo told me. We've now lapped ourselves, and are starting to break records set within this same streak, last year.
According to the NOAA, July was the fifteenth month in a row where the global land and ocean temperature was the highest recorded since 1880. "This marks the longest such streak in NOAA's 137 years of record keeping," its report says. (NASA's analysis varies, but only slightly: It calls July the tenth record-breaking month in a row.)
It seems pretty certain that 2016 will go down in history as the hottest recorded year on Earth, although we'll have to wait for the data to confirm that. If and when that happens, this will be the third record-breaking year in a row, which would be a new record in itself: Let's not forget that 2015 set its own annual temperature record, breaking the one set in 2014.
"We should be absolutely concerned," Sanchez-Lugo said. "We need to look at ways to adapt and mitigate. If we don't, temperatures will continue to increase."
Next year is expected to be slightly less intense, with the fierce El Niño we've been experiencing now abating. But the truth is that record-breaking temperatures, month after month, year after year, are starting to look less like an exception, more like the norm.
Photo above: Ethiopia has been facing extreme drought related to severe El Niño weather conditions. The European Commission announced humanitarian funding in response.