If this summer feels a little warmer than usual, you are not wrong. The global temperatures in June 2023 far exceeded the previous record set in June 2019. The sweltering weather intensified in July. On August 14, 2023, NASA reported that it was the hottest month since global temperature record-keeping began in 1880. Some experts believe July may have been the hottest month in 120,000 years. If the trend continues into the fall and winter, 2023 may surpass 2016 as the hottest year on record.
What is causing the extreme weather?
Climate scientists attribute the extreme temperatures to global warming caused by rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the return of El Niño.
Carbon dioxide emissions
Global CO2 emissions from burning oil, gas, and coal set a new record in 2022. Even worse, the world's two largest economies, China and the US, are showing no signs of cutting back. China's CO2 emissions hit a new high in the first quarter of 2023. US energy-related emissions are also expected to rise this year.
El Niño means 'little boy' in Spanish. It is a climate pattern that describes above-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. El Niño events typically last nine to 12 months. They usually result in warmer weather around the world.
"El Niño is normally associated with record-breaking temperatures at the global level," C3S Director Carlo Buontempo explains. "Whether this will happen in 2023 or 2024 is not yet known, but it is, I think, more likely than not."
Extreme weather impact on the planet
This summer's sweltering temperatures have affected countries worldwide. Canada has been battling hundreds of wildfires since early June. The uncontrollable blazes have burned through millions of acres and caused mass evacuations. In Europe, firefighters are combating fires across the continent, from Portugal to Greece to Italy. The US is not immune either. The windswept wildfires that scorched Maui, Hawaii, on August 8, 2023, are believed to be the deadliest in the nation's history. So far, 114 people have been confirmed dead and over 800 are still missing.
Meanwhile, heavy rainfall has caused massive floods in South Korea, Japan, India and Pakistan. Even the coldest place on Earth — Antarctica — has been impacted. The continent's sea ice usually reaches its maximum extent during the winter months (March to October). However, it is currently almost a million square miles (2.6 million square km) smaller than the expected annual average.
"Global mean temperature (itself) doesn't kill anyone," said Friederike Otto, a scientist with the Grantham Institute for Climate Change in London. "But a 'hottest July ever' manifests in extreme weather events around the globe."
Resources: Phys.org, weforum.org, Reuters.com