Earth’s average temperature hit an unofficial record high on Tuesday, according to the University of Maine’s climate data website Climate Reanalyzer: 62.9 degrees Fahrenheit (17.18 degrees Celsius). It wasn’t a fluke. The temperature hit the same reading on Wednesday.
Then on Thursday, the average surpassed the brand new record, hitting 63 degrees Fahrenheit.
Until last week, no single day over the Climate Reanalyzer’s 44 years of records has had an average temperature higher than 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But the the seven-day stretch ending Thursday averaged that much.
It’s impossible to say for sure what average temperatures the Earth reached before the advent of modern temperature-measuring instruments, but scientists have found ways to estimate temperatures from much earlier ages based on evidence such as tree rings. “These data tell us that it hasn’t been this warm since at least 125,000 years ago, which was the previous interglacial [period of warmth between two ice ages],” Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at London’s Grantham Institute, told the Washington Post.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, considered by some experts to be the preeminent source of global temperature readings and records, was not able to independently verify whether last week constituted a new weekly record. However, NOAA monitors global temperature averages and records on a monthly and annual basis, not daily or weekly.
The agency also validated that individual geographic locations are seeing record temperatures. “We recognize that we are in a warm period due to climate change, and combined with El Niño and hot summer conditions,” the agency stated, referencing a recurring climate pattern in which a band of warm water develops in the Tropical Pacific, “we’re seeing record warm surface temperatures being recorded at many locations across the globe.”
“If we persist in delaying key measures that are needed, I think we are moving into a catastrophic situation, as the last two records in temperature demonstrates,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said.
Figures from the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer were far from the only record-breaking climate measures in recent months.
NOAA says that May 2023 had the third highest global surface temperatures—which it measures by combining a global sea surface temperature dataset with a global land surface dataset—out of all May months since global records began in 1850. South America had its warmest May on record, as did New Zealand. For the second month in a row, ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere hit a new high. Antarctic sea ice coverage hit a new low.
For many people around the globe, the catastrophe has already arrived. Mexican officials said in late June that at least 100 people have died from heat-related causes in 2023—nearly triple the figures from 2022, and the year is not yet over. In northern India, at least 160 people died from heat-related causes in mid-June alone.
According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, June 2023 was the hottest June on record by a “substantial margin.” The previous record-setting June was 2019.
NOAA has not yet released its official global climate report for the month of June, though I’m not holding my breath it will bear good news. It’s too difficult to do that in this heat, anyway.