Here’s Why 2016 Could Be Even Warmer Than 2015


August sea surface temperatures compared to 1981-2010 average

“On a really hot day, anyone who says ‘hot enough for you?’ to another person will immediately be set on fire.” That’s one of “society’s new laws” proclaimed by Stephen Colbert on the second episode of his new Late Show on CBS.

We my be seeing a lot of spontaneous combustion over the next year. Researchers at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) reported Thursday we’re now in an El Niño that is both “strong” and will last through the spring. The resulting burst of regional warming in the tropical Pacific on top of the strong long-term global warming trend means that, as Climate Progress has been reporting for months, 2015 will easily be the hottest year on record — blowing past the record just set in 2014.

What of 2016? “The majority of international climate outlook models suggest that the 2015-16 El Niño is likely to strengthen further before the end of the year,” the World Meteorological Organization reported earlier this month. “Models and expert opinion suggest that surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean [the key Niño 3.4 region] are likely to exceed 2° Celsius above average.” And that would make this El Niño the strongest event since the super El Niño of 1997-1998.

At the time, 1997 did briefly become the hottest year on record, but 1998 then blew that record away, as shown in this NASA global temp chart, updated to include the record temperatures from July:

GISTEMP-July 2015

A major reason this happens is that the 12-month running mean global temperature tends to lag the Niño 3.4 region temperature “by 4 months,” as a 2010 NASA study explained. If El Niño temperatures peak in December, then the record for the hottest 12-month period would probably not be set until spring 2016.

At that point, whether or not 2016 will top 2015 depends on how fast the El Niño dissipates — and whether it quickly transitions to a La Niña, as often happens at the end of strong El Niños. Here is the current projection of how long the El Niño will last (which is roughly how long Niño 3.4 region stays above +0.5C):


“There is an approximately 95% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, gradually weakening through spring 2016,” according to NOAA’s CPC and Columbia’s International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society. There’s a 75 percent chance we’ll still have El Niño conditions in the March-April-May timeframe.

Of course there are many variables that could affect temperatures in 2016, including the ever-present possibility of a major volcanic eruption. Right now, though, it looks like we will be setting 12-month temperature records through spring 2016 — and that summer 2016 could be hotter than this summer, which was pretty darn hot worldwide as the CPC/IRI report shows:


Hot enough for you?