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.
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,