Monster El Niño Makes Record-Hot Year Look Inevitable

A worker opens a water pipe at an irrigation canal in Chainat, Thailand. Thailand's key reservoirs have fallen to the lowest since 1987, and farmers have been warned to delay planting their rice.

Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

This is a new kind of heat. In more than 135 years of global temperature data, four of the five hottest months on record all happened in 2015: February, March, May, and now June. 

This has been the hottest start to a year by far, according to data released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The record heat is likely to continue as an already strong El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean continues to intensify, ripping more heat into the atmosphere. This monster El Niño may itself be on track to break records. 

The animation below shows the Earth's warming climate, recorded in monthly measurements from land and sea dating back to 1880. Temperatures are displayed in degrees above or below the 20th-century average. Thirteen of the 14 hottest years are in the 21st century, and 2015 is on track to raise the bar again.  


Results from the world's top monitoring agencies vary slightly. NOAA and the Japan Meteorological Agency both had June as the hottest month on record. NASA had it as tied with June 1998 for the hottest. All three agencies agree that there has never been a hotter start to the year than the past six months.

The heat was experienced differently across the world, but few places escaped it altogether. The map below shows a few purple spots of cooler-than-average temperatures, and plenty of record-breaking red. The massive stretch of chart-topping heat in the Pacific Ocean is the footprint of El Niño.   

Source: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center

This year's heat is a continuation of trends that made 2014 the hottest on record. The blistering start to 2015 may be just the beginning. The National Weather Service predicts that the unusually warm waters of the El Niño have a 90 percent chance of persisting through the 2015-2016 winter and an 80 percent chance of lasting through next spring.

The most powerful El Niño on record was in 1997-98. This year's may rival it. Even if it doesn't, 2015 is well on its way to breaking the heat record.   

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