##Photo by Serge Taeymans on Unsplash

All Time High

2023 ended as the warmest year on record globally

By Dr. Greg Jones

It is hard to believe we are already in May with budbreak behind us and hopes for optimum vine growth and ripening periods ahead of us.
We recently passed Earth Day 2024, now the largest civic event on Earth, encouraging all to recognize that safeguarding our planet is critical for a brighter future. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, many aspects of our environment are at or near tipping points … especially our climate.

Last year brought unprecedented heat and climate extremes, and 2024 has continued at the same pace.

Looking back, 2023 ended as the warmest year on record globally (+2.67°F). It’s the 49th consecutive year with temperatures above average, and the last 10 years have been the warmest decade on record. *

Ocean heat content, down to over a mile deep, also ended 2023 at a record high. This is troubling because the oceans absorb about 90 percent of the extra heat in the Earth system. This warming disrupts biogeochemical cycling throughout the oceans. Surface ocean temperatures were also at a record globally, driven largely by El Niño, which in turn drove much of the extreme weather experienced on land.

The greatest warming has occurred in the Arctic, where rates are four times those of the rest of the globe. Last year was this region’s warmest year ever. Influenced by this ‘Arctic Amplification,’ the jet stream has weakened, producing more amplified north-south waves in the mid-latitudes, more extreme weather, and greater swings in climate conditions from year to year, season to season, and month to month.

For the continental United States, 2023 was the sixth warmest year on record (2.41°F) and the 39th consecutive year above average. However, due to a more southerly jet stream and El Niño-related precipitation, California and much of the Great Basin ended the year closer to average or just slightly cooler (one of the few places globally to do so). Last year’s precipitation did bring California’s broader drought issue to a close, for now.

For Oregon, 2023 ranked the 15th warmest since 1895, averaging 1.61°F above average statewide. Our precipitation totals were on the dry side, continuing the run of near-average to drier years since 2018.

Globally, 2024 keeps breaking records: January was the warmest January on record globally, February 2024 was the warmest February on record globally, which marks the ninth consecutive month of record warmth. Preliminary data point to March and April being on track to do the same.

Yet, the wisdom of Mark Twain holds true even in a warming climate: “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” In the middle of what had been a very warm start to the winter over much of North America, whiplash occurred in January with an extremely cold air mass blanketing much of the West. Over a seven-day period, mid-month temperatures dropped to zero or below, with the coldest conditions in British Columbia and the inland Pacific Northwest. This can damage dormant buds of most wine grapes and unfortunately, widespread damage has been reported, especially in British Columbia.

Extreme cold events, including those experienced in January, are strongly influenced by Arctic Amplification, where the polar vortex releases cold air into the mid-latitudes in one part of the Northern Hemisphere while another area sees a push of extremely warm air. Evidence of this can be found further east, where much of Eastern Canada and the United States experienced an extremely mild winter with little ice in the Great Lakes, low snowfall totals, and an early spring.
What does the rest of the year have in store? While seasonal to annual forecasts have more uncertainty, they can offer broad temperature predictors. For one, persistence in the climate system is extraordinarily strong. This means that this year will likely be close to the average temperature over the last five years.

Second, with El Niño still in place in the Tropical Pacific, the warmer ocean temperatures in the Tropics add to the potential warmth of the atmosphere. If the current El Niño transitions to La Niña by the fall as it is forecasted to do, we may end up slightly cooler, but not by much due to the overall persistence in the climate system.

But what about climate extremes in 2024 and beyond? Observations and modeling reveal a warmer world tends to be more variable. As such, we should continue to expect substantial variability in weather/climate factors. Now, warm temperature records far outpace cold temperature records. But, as the incident in January has shown us, cold events do not go away in a warmer world.

*Data and statistics provided by Copernicus, Berkeley Earth, and NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Year after year, Oregon’s climate contributes to our celebrated vintage variation. WEATHER, CLIMATE AND WINE explains how the weather affects our grapevines, fruit and, ultimately, wines. Visit to read more in-depth reports.

For over 25 years, world-renowned wine climatologist Greg Jones has conducted research firmly linking weather and climate with grapevine growth, fruit chemistry and wine characteristics in regions around the globe. He was named to Decanter Magazine’s 2009 Power List representing the top 50 most influential people in the world of wine, Oregon Wine Press 2009 Person of the Year and listed among the most influential people in the U.S. wine industry. Jones serves as a Director on the Oregon Wine Board, founding member of the Society for International Terroir Experts, contributor to the Porto Protocol, and member of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable. He has lifelong ties to the Oregon wine community, most closely as CEO of Abacela, his family winery and vineyards.

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