Statewide, 2023 was the sixth-hottest year for Georgia since recordkeeping began in 1895, with temperatures across the state averaging 65.6 degrees. That’s 1.4 degrees above the average observed over the last three decades.
While the last calendar year featured many months of above average temperatures, it was Atlanta’s exceptionally hot start to the year that really pushed 2023 into the heat history books. The period from January to March 2023 was Atlanta’s hottest start to a year since at least 1930, with temperatures a whopping 6 degrees above normal.
Credit: Ben Gray
Credit: Ben Gray
While the warm winter was pleasant for city dwellers, the same abnormal heat caused problems for fruit farmers across the state. In response to the exceptionally warm temperatures, peach trees across Georgia pushed their buds out weeks earlier than normal. Then, when a cold snap hit in March, an estimated 90% of the state’s iconic fruit was lost to the freeze.
Experts say several factors were behind Atlanta’s hot 2023, but among the biggest is long-term warming caused by human-caused climate change. Like the rest of the planet, Atlanta is getting hotter: The city sees around eight more extreme heat days that it did 1961, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Its “heatwave season” has also grown more than 80 days longer.
“The rising temperatures overall from global warming and then El Niño — I think those are probably the number one and number two factors,” said Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia.
El Niño is a climate pattern characterized by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The phenomena influences weather across the globe in different ways, but years with El Niño are most likely to see extreme heat.
Last year, El Niño developed in summer and helped drive several outbreaks of record-shattering heat across the Northern Hemisphere.
On Tuesday, the European Union’s climate monitoring arm announced that 2023 was Earth’s hottest year on-record by a wide margin, owing mainly to climate change and El Niño. Later this week, the U.S. government is expected to confirm those same findings when it issues its own annual global temperature recap.
A note of disclosure
This coverage is supported by a partnership with Green South Foundation and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/