(AP) -- It may be cold comfort during a frigid February, but last month was by far the hottest January ever.
The broken record was fueled by a waning El Nino and a gradually warming world, according to U.S. scientists who reported the data Thursday.
Records on the planet's temperature have been kept since 1880.
Spurred on by unusually warm Siberia, Canada, northern Asia and Europe, the world's land areas were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a normal January, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
That didn't just nudge past the old record set in 2002, but broke that mark by 0.81 degrees, which meteorologists said is a lot, since such records often are broken by hundredths of a degree at a time.
"That's pretty unusual for a record to be broken by that much," said the data center's scientific services chief, David Easterling. "I was very surprised."
The scientists went beyond their normal double checking and took the unusual step of running computer climate models "just to make sure that what we're seeing was real," Easterling said.
The world's temperature record was driven by northern latitudes. Siberia was on average 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. Eastern Europe had temperatures averaging 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Canada on average was more than 5 degrees warmer than normal.
Larger increases in temperature farther north, compared to mid-latitudes, is "sort of the global warming signal," Easterling said.
It is what climate scientists predict happens and will happen more frequently with global warming, according to an authoritative report by hundreds of climate scientists issued this month.
Meteorologists aren't blaming the warmer January on global warming alone, but they said the higher temperature was consistent with climate change.
As much of the United States already knows, February doesn't seem as unusually warm as January was. "Even with global warming, you're not going to keep that cold air bottled up in Alaska and Canada forever," Easterling said.