Climate change: January temperatures 2.2C higher in Europe

A snowless slope in the Swiss alpine resort of Adelboden. Due to the lack of snow, several mid-altitude ski resorts had to close in Switzerland.
A snowless slope in the Swiss alpine resort of Adelboden. Due to the lack of snow, several mid-altitude ski resorts had to close in Switzerland. Photo credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images via CNN

Europe has experienced an exceptionally warm January, with average temperatures 2.2 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1990 to 2020 average, according to data from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The month started with a record-breaking heatwave, as New Year's Day saw an alarming number of heat records fall across the continent, with at least eight countries experiencing their warmest-ever January day.

The climatologist Maximiliano Herrera, who tracks extreme temperatures across the globe, told CNN at the time that it was "the most extreme heat wave in European history."

The Balkans, eastern Europe, Finland, northwest Russia and Svalbard, the Arctic archipelago off the coast of Norway, all experienced particularly high temperatures in January, according to Copernicus, which analyzes billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world.

"While January 2023 is exceptional, these extreme temperatures remain a tangible indication of the effects of a changing climate for many regions and can be understood as an additional warning of future extreme events," Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement.

Europe is warming faster than any other region, according to the World Meteorological Organization, as planet-heating pollution pushes temperatures towards critical warming thresholds.

The continent is seeing increased wildfiresblistering heatwaves and destructive droughts.

Globally, January temperatures were 0.25 degrees warmer than the 1991-2020 January average, according to the Copernicus data, with places including the eastern United States, Canada and Mexico experiencing above average temperatures.

The data also found record levels of sea ice melt in Antarctica in January.

Sea ice extent -- the amount of ocean covered in ice -- was 31% below average, the lowest levels the satellite dataset has ever recorded and significantly below the previous record set in 2017.

Unlike the Arctic where sea ice has been melting for decades, Antarctica's sea ice is very variable. After years of sea ice increases, Antarctic sea ice started declining from 2016 and the region is now reporting record lows.

Arctic sea ice extent was 4% below average, with the Barents Sea and Svalbard most affected, Copernicus data showed.

It wasn't hot everywhere. Below average temperatures were recorded in countries including Siberia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Australia. Some scientists have pointed to Arctic warming as one reason behind the extreme cold snaps the world continues to experience, even as winters become warmer overall.