Last month has emerged as the hottest May globally since records began in 1880, leaving experts to venture that 2014 could take the title as the hottest year ever on record.
New data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show the average land and ocean surface temperature was 0.74°C above the 20th century average last month, at 14.8°C.
This record heat, combine with increasingly certain predictions of an El Niño this year, have left experts speculating on whether 2014 could become the hottest year on record.
The latest figures from NOAA show that worldwide, March-May was the second warmest on record – with combined global land and ocean surface temperatures also averaging 0.74°C above the 20th century average – while April 2014 ranked as the hottest ever.
The combined average surface temperatures for the year to date (January to May) sits as the fifth warmest such period on record – at 66°C above the 20th century average.
2010 holds the record for that period.
May 2014 marks the 351st month in a row – that’s more than 29 years – where global temperatures have been warmer than average.
Each of the past three decades have been warmer than any other decade since 1850, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – which warned the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is rising global temperatures at an unprecedented rate.
13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century, with the warmest year on record currently standing as 2010.
However, with forecasters now predicting a 90% chance of El Niño this year – which tend to add heat to the atmosphere – experts are now warning that 2014 could soon take the crown for warmest year on record.
Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Coloadaro, told Climate Central: “I agree that 2014 could well be the warmest on record, and/or 2015, depending on how things play out.”
El Niño events can also spark droughts in Australia and increased rain and floods in parts of the US and South America.
The full effects of any potential El Niño on temperature are unlikely to fully emerge until later in the year.
The NOAA’s global temperature records are one of three such records. The other two are kept by NASA and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in the UK.