It’s official: Atlanta had its second-hottest year on record in 2023

Average temperatures in the city were 2.3 degrees above the 30-year norm
Fernando Rosales with RJH electrical contractors worked on installing an electrical box on Northside Drive near I-75 as he wiped away the sweat from the oppressive heat in metro Atlanta on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Fernando Rosales with RJH electrical contractors worked on installing an electrical box on Northside Drive near I-75 as he wiped away the sweat from the oppressive heat in metro Atlanta on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

The city of Atlanta endured one of its hottest years on record in 2023, new federal data released Tuesday shows.

Atlanta’s average temperature over the last 12 months was 65.9 degrees, 2.3 degrees above the 30-year norm for the city. In the 93 years since recordkeeping began, only 2019 was hotter than 2023.

The new analysis released Tuesday by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also shows Georgia as a whole was much hotter than normal and adds to other recent global data showing 2023 was a year of record heat for the planet, in large part due to human-caused climate change.

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.

The warm winter was pleasant for city dwellers, but 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.

Jim Markley, the owner of CJ Orchards Farm, observes and holds a single fortunate peach that managed to endure a March freeze. 
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Climate change is also raising sea levels, increasing the risk for hurricanes to push damaging storm surge onto the coast. And in inland cities like Atlanta, higher temperatures mean storms are capable of dumping more rain in shorter intervals, raising the threat of urban flooding.

“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 phenomenon 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.

Near Turner Field, a MARTA bus trudged through standing water along Pollard Boulevard on Wednesday morning, January 4, 2023. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Flooding, storm surge and other global warming-fueled impacts were apparent in many of the 28 disasters that resulted in damages of greater than $1 billion in the U.S. last year — the most ever recorded, NOAA also announced on Tuesday.

Looking ahead to 2024, the latest federal forecast calls for a wetter than normal start to the year in most of Georgia, mostly due to El Niño. In winter, the pattern tends to bring cool, wet conditions to the Southern U.S.

Conditions in the Pacific Ocean are expected to transition from El Niño to neutral, but exactly when is unclear. If the warm waters from the phenomenon linger, however, it could mean another year of record-breaking temperatures.

“The longer that pool of warm water lasts, the more likely 2024 will be another really warm year,” Knox said.


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/

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