Changing Planet

NOAA Expects 2015 To Be Warmest Year On Record

October 2015 was the warmest October since record-keeping began in 1880, and scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that 2015 likely will become the warmest year on record.

Temperatures last month averaged 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit above the averages for the 20th century, said Jon Gottschalck, chief of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center-Operational Prediction Branch in College Park, Maryland.

“We’re pretty confident that 2015 will be the warmest on record,” Gottschalck said during NOAA’s monthly climate update.

The monthly average for October was derived from combining the average temperatures over land and water. Both of those stats also were the warmest on record. Temperatures over land were 2.39 degrees Fahrenheit above 20th century averages, and over oceans the average was 1.53 degrees above 20th century norms.

Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information Monitoring Branch, noted that the trend of temperatures higher than average started around 1980. “It’s a signal of climate change,” Sánchez-Lugo said.

The scientists also pointed out that an El Niño event that began earlier this year could become the strongest on record. They also noted that when an El Niño occurs, it is not a storm but a climate pattern that can alter weather conditions.

An El Niño occurs when equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than usual. When that happens, it can affect upper level wind patterns. The winds can disrupt hurricane formation in the Atlantic Ocean, but make other types of storms more likely.

Gottschalck said scientists won’t know for certain whether the current El Niño will become the most powerful until the end of 2015, when record-keeping for the year is complete.

The El Niño will likely make the winter of 2015-16 warmer and wetter than usual in some places. Heavy rainfall could reduce drought conditions in California and eliminate the drought in Arizona, Gottschalck said.

But the warmer winter also could bring severe weather to some parts of the U.S. Southern states in particular are more likely to see unusual weather events this winter, and could see storms that spawn winter tornadoes, Gottschalck said.

Scientists think the current El Niño probably will continue through the winter and dissipate in the late spring or early summer of 2016.

North Carolina author Willie Drye’s new book, For Sale–American Paradise, was published by Lyons Press.


Willie Drye is an award-winning author and a contributing editor for National Geographic News. He and his wife live in North Carolina, dividing their time between Wilmington and Plymouth.

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