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El Niño leaves June as hottest ever, sets up 2015 for more

NOAA's comparison of the peak of the El Niño in 1997 with the current pattern as of July 2015. Credit: NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 7:09 PM - 2015 is only a little over half over, but from what's been going on with the world's weather patterns so far, are we already locked into yet another record warm year?

As of the latest global analysis by NOAA - the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - June 2015 has broken through four different temperature records.

  1. June 2015 was the warmest month of June in the past 136 years, at 0.88oC above the 20th century average, and surpassing the previous record (from 2014) by 0.12oC,
  2. April-June 2015 was the warmest such 3-month period on record, at 0.84oC above average, beating out April-June 2014 by 0.05oC,
  3. The first half of this year, January-June 2015, was the warmest such period around the globe, at 0.85oC above average, topping the previous record, set in 2010, by 0.09oC, and
  4. The past 12 months, July 2014-June 2015, was also the warmest on record, at 0.81oC, exceeding 2010's record by 0.10oC.

The first two records show how 2015 is already headed towards surpassing 2014 as the hottest on record, and is quite possibly locked into that path. The last two show how El Niño 2015 is pushing this year towards that lofty position on the list.

The above maps, courtesy of NOAA, show the departure from the 1981-2010 average temperature (above) for both June and the January-June period, and the "percentiles" for both periods (below), detailing which regions saw temperatures significantly above or below, and even record setting temperatures. Even comparing current temperatures to such a recent average (as opposed to the cooler 1951-1980 average that NASA tends to use), much of the world experienced temperatures "much warmer than average" and several regions broke records.

Why is beating 2010 records significant?

2010 was the last year that El Niño held sway in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, with warmer ocean temperatures seen there between June 2009 and May 2010. 2014 was already impressive for being out 2010 for overall yearly average, but it still couldn't best 2010 for the July-June and January-June averages, simply due to El Niño's influence.

Some El Nino forecasts "off the chart" in July, while

the consensus now predicts a strong event.
Credit: IRI/CPC

With June 2015 joining February, March and May as the fourth out of the past six months to break their respective monthly temperature records, the trend is already clear.

As of May setting its monthly record, each month for the rest of the year would have needed to come in at around 6th warmest to keep 2015 out of the top spot on the list of warmest years. Given that June 2015 managed to blast through the previous June record, with the highest departure from average of any month outside of some of the coldest of the year (January, February and March), it has now set a new pace for the rest of the year.

For 2014 to keep its position as warmest year on record, temperatures from July through December would need to come in at around 10th warmest on record or cooler. For that to happen, the current El Niño pattern would likely have to completely collapse, taking us back to neutral or even La Niña conditions. With El Niño going through what appears to be an exceptional surge in strength over the past month, and with the latest forecast now increasing the risk of at least a strong event, the chances of having such cold temperatures dominate for the rest of the year are slim, at best.

What could we see for the rest of 2015?

When searching for the best match for the El Niño pattern we've seen for 2015 so far, 1987 represents the best "analogue year" for that purpose. Not only is the pattern of timing and development well-matched, but the strength of this year's El Niño is roughly the same as was seen in 1987, at least so far.

Temperatures recorded around the globe are quite different today than they were in 1987 - especially in the northeastern Pacific due to The Blob. However, if the rest of 2015 follows at least the basic trend of temperatures from that year, reflecting the contribution of this kind of El Niño to the overall pattern, even a moderate event could result in a significant jump in the record books.

In the hypothetical case where that scenario were to play out, 2015 temperatures could come in at around 0.85oC above the 20th century average. Not only would this place the year in the top spot as the hottest on record, it would surpass 2014 by 0.11oC - nearly three times the gap between the records set in 2014 and 2010.

Add to this the growing risk for a strong El Niño, and the even warmer temperatures that would result, and it brings raises the potential for 2015 to beat previous heat records by an even wider margin.

Sources: NASA GISS | NOAA NCEI | NOAA CPC | IRI/CPC via Twitter

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