On top of a record-setting month in the tropics, September 2009 was also the second warmest September on record both globally and in the Northern Hemisphere.
"Who would have predicted those temperatures in the atmosphere when the sea surface temperature has been bumping along so nonchalantly?" Christy asked.
Normally, warming in the atmosphere during an El Nino is somewhat linked to rising sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. Atmospheric temperatures in September, however, were significantly warmer than might have been predicted based on sea surface temps.
"Sea surface temps for September in a key region of the Pacific were on the order of 0.83 C warmer than average, and the tropical atmosphere was 0.51 C warmer than seasonal norms," Christy said. "We've seen water temps about this warm twice in the past decade (2004-2005 and 2006-2007) without seeing this surge in the atmosphere.
"If you go back to the big El Nino of 1997-1998, sea surface temps (SSTs) in September 1997 in that same part of the Pacific were about 2.29 C warmer than normal, but the tropical atmosphere was only 0.4 C above average.
"Other things drive atmospheric temperatures in addition to SSTs, so it seems this would have been a warm September even without the El Nino."
Bands of air warmer than seasonal norms circled the Equator in September, while also cover much of the Central Pacific, Northern and Southeastern Asia, and Africa. Warmer air stretched in one wide band from the Antarctic across Australia, the Philippines, China and Siberia into the Arctic.
Compared to seasonal norms, the warmest air (as much as 5.5 C warmer than season norms) covered most of Canada -- although some ski resorts in portions of the Western U.S. are opening at the earliest dates on record.
Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.13 C per decade
September temperatures (preliminary)Global composite temp.: +0.42 C (about 0.76 degrees Fahrenheit) above
Dr. John Christy | Newswise Science News
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