The year 1998 is the warmest year in the record of instrumental measurements. In this study, an atmospheric general circulation model is used to investigate the role of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in this warmth, with a focus on the role of the Atlantic Ocean. The model forced with the observed global SSTs captures the main features of land surface air temperature anomalies in 1998. A sensitivity experiment shows that in comparison with the global SST anomalies, the Atlantic SST anomalies can explain 35% of the global mean surface air temperature (GMAT) anomaly, and 57% of the land surface air temperature anomaly in 1998. The mechanisms through which the Atlantic Ocean influences the GMAT are likely different from season to season. Possible detailed mechanisms involve the impact of SST anomalies on local convection in the tropical Atlantic region, the consequent excitation of a Rossby wave response that propagates into the North Atlantic and the Eurasian continent in winter and spring, and the consequent changes in tropical Walker circulation in summer and autumn that induce changes in convection over the tropical Pacific. This in turn affects climate in Asia and Australia. The important role of the Atlantic Ocean suggests that attention should be paid not only to the tropical Pacific Ocean, but also to the tropical Atlantic Ocean in understanding the GMAT variability and its predictability.