Global warming sceptics are pointing to recent record cold temperatures in parts of North America and Asia and the return of Arctic Sea ice to suggest fears about climate change may be overblown.

According to the US National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the average temperature of the global land surface in January 2008 was below the 20th century mean (-0.02°F/-0.01°C) for the first time since 1982.

Temperatures were also colder than average across large swathes of central Asia, the Middle East, the western US, western Alaska and southeastern China.

The NCDC reported that the cold conditions were associated with "the largest January snow cover extent on record for the Eurasian continent and for the Northern Hemisphere".

In some parts of China and central Asia, snow fell for the first time in living memory, the NCDC noted.

"For the contiguous United States, the average temperature was 30.5°F (-0.83°C) for January, which was 0.3°F (0.2°C) below the 20th century mean and the 49th coolest January on record, based on preliminary data".

Much of North America was also hit by the heaviest snowfall since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre found the January 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent, while below the 1979-2000 mean, was greater than the previous four years.

And the January 2008 Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent was significantly above the 1979-2000 mean, ranking as the largest sea ice extent in January over the 30-year historical period.

Generally there were cooler-than-average conditions in the southern oceans and in Niño regions, where the average temperature decreased markedly in January.

Canada's National Post reported that there were so many snow and ice storms in Ontario and Quebec that the property market has suffered because buyers did not want to go out. And in the first two weeks of February, Toronto received 70 cm of snow, smashing the record of 66.6 cm for the entire month set back in 1950.

Asked about the Arctic ice cover, Gilles Langis, a senior forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa, told the Post the Arctic winter had been so severe, the ice has not only recovered but was actually 10 to 20 cm thicker in many places than the same time last year.

"OK, so one winter does not a climate make. It would be premature to claim an Ice Age is looming just because we have had one of our most brutal winters in decades," writes Lorne Gunter in the National Post.

"But if environmentalists and environment reporters can run around shrieking about the manmade destruction of the natural order every time a robin shows up on Georgian Bay two weeks early, then it is at least fair game to use this winter's weather stories to wonder whether the alarmist are being a tad premature."

He also quotes Kenneth Tapping, of Canada's National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun and is convinced the Earth is destined for a long period of severely cold weather if solar activity does not pick up soon.

"The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850," Gunter writes. "It's way too early to claim the same is about to happen again, but then it's way too early for the hysteria of the global warmers, too."

Other figures from the NCDC, however, show that during January 2008, Europe, northern Asia and most of Australia experienced above average temperatures. According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), temperatures were 3-4°C (5-7°F) above average across large areas of Western and Central Australia and as a whole, the country had its warmest January on record.

Sea surface temperatures were also warmer than average in the Atlantic, Indian, and the northwestern Pacific oceans.