Global Warming Crushes Records. Again.

What we're seeing has no precedent.

Habanero Chile Harvest And Production In The Yucatan Region
Photographer: Susana Gonzalez /Bloomberg

If weather were measured in peppers, last month would be an habanero.

Here we go again. 

For the surface of planet Earth, 2015 was the hottest year on record by a stunning margin. But already, 2016 is on track to beat it. 

Last month was the hottest January in 137 years of record keeping, according to data released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's the ninth consecutive month to set a new record.

To be sure, some of the recent extremes are the result of a monster El Niño weather pattern that still lingers in the Pacific Ocean. But the broader trend is clear: We live in a world that's warming rapidly, with no end in sight. Since 1980, the world has set a new annual temperature record roughly every three years. Fifteen of the hottest 16 years ever measured are in the 21st century.  

The chart below shows earth's warming climate, measured from land and sea dating back to 1880. If the rest of 2016 is as hot as January, it would shatter the records set in 2014 and 2015. 

Results from the world’s top monitoring agencies vary slightly, but NASANOAA, and the Japan Meteorological Agency all agree that January was unprecedented. 

The El Niño weather pattern that started last year produced some of the hottest temperatures ever witnessed across great swaths of the equatorial Pacific. By some measures, this may now be considered the most extreme El Niño on record. It has triggered powerful typhoons, spoiled harvests in Africa, and contributed to vast fires in Indonesia. In California, residents are bracing for more floods over the coming months.

The heat in January was experienced differently around the world. The map below shows a few purple spots of cooler-than-average temperatures and plenty of record-breaking red. The blob of crimson in the Pacific Ocean is the footprint of El Niño. Some of the most unusual warmth swept the Arctic, where ice levels fell to the lowest on record for this time of year.

NOAA

While El Niño conditions appear to have peaked, they may continue to a lesser extent through late spring or early summer, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. Then it's pretty much a coin toss whether the Pacific returns to more neutral temperatures or even a cooler La Niña pattern. 

The heat that's dispersed into the atmosphere during an El Niño can linger, which means there's a decent chance 2016 will turn out to be the third straight year to set a new temperature record. That's never happened before. 

A Brief History of Global Warming