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El Niño plus the hottest year on record: What that equals for 2015 (+video)

The UN weather agency's Secretary-General called the level of preparedness on both international and local levels, 'unprecedented,' thanks in part to lessons learned in 1998.

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    A sailing boat and cargo ship are seen on the horizon as a man paddles onto a wave on a stand-up board in the Pacific Ocean at Sydney's Cronulla Beach, Australia, July 30, 2015. The El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is growing and expected to continue, raising temperatures and reducing rainfall into next year, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday, adding that the ocean surface temperature in all monitoring areas has been more than 1 degree Celsius above average for 10 successive weeks - which is two weeks longer than the record in 1997.
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What do you get when you combine record-busting temperatures and a powerful El Niño gaining strength?

“A new normal," Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't know what really else to call it."

Climate scientists the world over are acknowledging Earth is in uncharted weather territory. Nearly every meteorological team that captures temperature data found that October 2015 set a record for most above-average temperatures, including NASA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, University of California at Berkeley, and University of Alabama at Huntsville, which measures atmospheric temperature using satellites, Ms. Blunden said.

January through October 2015 has been the hottest period on Earth since records were established in 1880. And the last year has been the hottest consecutive 12 months on record.

In the Pacific Ocean, El Niño is churning ever-warmer waters, wringing out hurricanes in the East Pacific and droughts in South East Asia. The World Meteorological Association (WMO) said it will soon know if the El Niño of 2015 will trump the 1997-98 phenomenon, a cycle that altered global rainfall and wrought a billion dollars in economic losses. But WMO, the weather agency of the United Nations, has said the average surface water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean the last three months will top 2 degrees Celsius above normal, putting this El Niño event among the three strongest since 1950, and on track to break more records. 

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño, which is the strongest for more than 15 years,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a statement.

But Mr. Jarraud also tempered the superlatives, saying that historic weather has informed future plans, calling the level of preparedness on display from international to local levels, "unprecedented," and much improved since the last dramatic El Niño in 1998.  

“We are better prepared for this event than we have ever been in the past. On the basis of advice from National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, the worst-affected countries are planning for El Niño and its impacts on sectors like agriculture, fisheries, water, and health, and implementing disaster management campaigns to save lives and minimize economic damage and disruption,” he said.

Jarroud and NOAA's Blunden agree that warmer average temperatures will only be reinforced under the El Niño influence.

“Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further,” said Jarraud.

This El Niño may persist into the summer of 2016, according to the US Climate Prediction Center. The heat put off into the atmosphere during an El Niño can last longer than the warmer tides, meaning 2016 could break global records – forging the potential for three consecutive hottest years on record, one beating the next since 2014. 

Blunden said "it is virtually just impossible that we will not break the record" for the hottest year in 2015. 

 
 
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