'Unprecedented and terrifying': World sets all-time high temperature record 2 days in a row

A security guard wears an electric fan around his neck and wipes his sweat.
A security guard in Beijing on July 3. (Andy Wong/AP)

The Earth’s average temperature reached an all-time high on Monday, and then again on Tuesday, in what is shaping up to be a year of record-breaking heat.

Monday’s global average temperature of 62.62 degrees Fahrenheit was exceeded Tuesday when it reached 62.92°F, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical climate hazards at University College London, called the back-to-back records “totally unprecedented and terrifying.”

Scientists say that daily heat records are likely to continue falling in the weeks ahead, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

Climate change and El Niño

Rising global temperatures are a consequence of climate change that is being caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions and the weather pattern known as El Niño, a band of warm air from the tropical Pacific Ocean that recurs every two to seven years, scientists say.

“We may well see a few even warmer days over the next 6 weeks,” Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, an environmental research organization, tweeted on Tuesday morning. “Global warming is leading us into an unfamiliar world.”

“This will almost certainly be the warmest year on record, courtesy of [the] warming trend + large El Niño,” tweeted Michael Mann, director of the Center for Science Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania. “So we can expect [the] warmest month, warmest week, warmest day, and probably warmest hour.”

"This is not a milestone we should be celebrating," climate scientist Friederike Otto of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Britain's Imperial College London told Reuters. "It's a death sentence for people and ecosystems."

Global average temperatures have risen 2°F since the Industrial Revolution, resulting in more extreme and enduring heat waves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s affecting many places, but not everywhere

Fifty-four million Americans were under heat advisories on Wednesday, primarily across the South, the Southwest and parts of the Midwest and mid-Atlantic.

Similar heat waves are occurring throughout the Northern Hemisphere. A heat wave in India killed at least 44 people, the United Kingdom had its hottest June since records began in 1884, and China has had the most days over 95°F in a six-month period in its recorded history, CNN reported.

An infographic titled: People worldwide swelter, suffer, die under climate change-fueled heat waves.
Yasin Demirci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

All-time-high temperature records were set on Monday and Tuesday in Quebec and in Peru. Unusually high temperatures have exacerbated the wildfires in Canada that have sent smoke across the northern United States in recent weeks.

Beijing hit a record-setting nine consecutive days with highs above 95°F last week, including three straight days over 104°F, another record. Over 2,000 people suffered heat-related illness while making the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia last week, due to temperatures as high as 118°F, Saudi officials said.

Nonetheless, the weather will always vary. In coastal California, recent weather has been “unusually cool and cloudy,” due to a series of low-pressure systems that have been stalling over the state, Miguel Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, told the New York Times last month. The temperature records set Monday and Tuesday represent an average of all temperatures measured globally.

Warm winter in Antarctica

Though it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, that portion of the globe has been experiencing higher temperatures than are normal for this time of year. Antarctica’s Argentine Islands recently broke their July temperature record with a high of 47.6°F, and Antarctica's average forecast for Wednesday is 8.1°F warmer than the 1979-2000 average.

Oceans are heating up

Approximately 40% of the world’s oceans are currently experiencing heat waves, the most since satellite tracking started in 1991, according to NOAA. The agency projects that proportion to rise to 50% by September, which is "kind of scary," Dillon Amaya, a research scientist with NOAA's Physical Sciences Laboratory, told USA Today.

Usually, only around 10% of the oceans experience heat wave conditions at a given time. Marine heat waves can kill fish, bleach coral and fuel more powerful hurricanes. Since 1901, the oceans have warmed 1.5°F.

Scientists call for action

A child runs through a fountain.
A child runs through a fountain in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Mykola Tys/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Climate scientists say the extreme heat we are experiencing is just the beginning of what is to come if greenhouse gas emissions — primarily the result of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas — are not eliminated.

“The increasing heating of our planet caused by fossil fuel use is not unexpected — it was predicted already in the 19th century, after all,” climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany told the Associated Press. “But it is dangerous for us humans and for the ecosystems we depend on. We need to stop it fast.”