Earth is on pace to experience its hottest year in recorded history, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Monday.
The new forecast is driven by temperature data from September 2014, the warmest September in 135 years of climate tracking. This May, June, and August were also record-breaking months. In fact, October 2013 to September 2014 marks the hottest 12-month stretch since record-keeping began in 1880, according to Jessica Blunden, climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.
Most remarkable, says Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology for Weather Underground, is the recent landmark heat has occurred in the absence of El Niño, the periodic warming of tropical Pacific Ocean waters that has produced high temperatures in past years.
"It's unprecedented to set a record without that warming of the eastern Pacific," Masters told VICE News.
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, however, El Niño is likely to begin in the next two months and last through spring 2015. That means global temperatures in the final months of 2014 should stay warm, says Masters, and there is "at least a fifty percent chance" the record will fall.
Although El Niño hasn't yet begun, the exceptional September heat was still fueled largely by ocean temperatures, which were the highest of any month, September or otherwise, on the books. Temperatures were also unusually high in Europe, North Africa, the western United States, and Western Australia. According to NOAA, "31 countries and territories from all seven continents around the world had at least one station that reported record warmth."
NOAA's announcement is consistent with data from NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, which had already found this September to be a record-hot one.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change links warming to phenomena such as sea level rise, heat waves, and declining crop yields.
Though NOAA's announcement doesn't come as a surprise, Rob Friedman, youth engagement coordinator at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says it's an alarming harbinger of more climate change to come.
"Yes, this is the warmest year on record, but it's more terrifying that it's not going to remain the warmest year," Friedman told VICE News. "It's likely to get a lot worse, and that comes with impacts across the board."
Indeed, further warming may be just around the corner.
"If El Niño does kick in, we'll probably have back to back record-breaking years," Jeff Masters told VICE News. "2015 could far exceed 2014."
Follow Ben Goldfarb on Twitter: @ben_a_goldfarb