Will We Chill After a Super-Hot Year?

You’ve no doubt heard that 2015 was the hottest year on record. But you may not have appreciated just how warm it was — far warmer than ever before recorded. And you may be wondering what that really means. The statistics and facts tell the story of an extraordinary event that was in lockstep with a super El Niño, a warming of the Pacific Ocean.

To begin to appreciate what’s happening, take in this stat: We have now had 39 years in a row in which temperatures exceeded the average temperature for the hundred years in the 20th century. We’re not guessing at that. There are thousands of temperature sensors in the world, a vast fleet of weather buoys and weather instruments that record these temperatures day in and day out. The number of instruments involved is staggering.

The surface temperatures in 2015 were on average almost a full degree Celsius warmer than the average 20th-century year temperature of 13.9 degrees Celsius. That’s a whopping 6.5% higher temperature than average. Last year was especially hot because the El Niño effect — also the hottest El Niño on record — contributed .15 degrees to the record.

Photo by NOAA The extraordinary El Nino pattern of warm Pacific waters that has raised havoc with weather in the United States for nearly two years is about to end, but scientists question whether the cooling La Nina trend we’re entering will significantly slow global warming.

But before you panic about runaway temperature rises and total climate chaos, you should consider that after outrageously hot El Niño effects, the Earth typically cools off the following year during a La Niña, or cooling of Pacific waters. In 1997 and 1998, a strong El Niño was followed by such a cooling year that climate theorists predicting global warming patterns might actually be ending. It didn’t take long, though, for warming trends to reassert themselves.

The Earth is unquestionably warming up, but El Niño is its own phenomenon. The hottest parts of the Pacific move around vertically in the ocean, rising to near the top in some years, causing the warming of surface air above, and falling to deeper levels in other years, causing the cooling of surface temperatures (La Niña).

So what to make of all this? The Earth and its atmosphere are heating up, and there appear to be stronger and stronger cycles of warming and cooling within that trend. And although we should expect some cooling following the super El Niño of 2014–2015, NASA is predicting that 2016 will be even hotter than 2015.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for, The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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