Long-term weather forecasts suggest that 2014 could be the hottest year since record-keeping began due to heat from El Niño, according to a report by New Scientist. While a developing El Niño can be hard to predict, a new model aimed specifically at predicting the weather pattern shows a 76 percent chance of an El Niño this year.
An El Niño occurs when warm weather concentrated below the surface of the Pacific rises up and moves along the equator toward America. Scientific records show that, in the year before each past El Niño, the temperature over the equator and the temperature in the rest of the Pacific became more similar than at other times.
When the temperature links reach a critical strength, a team of scientists in Germany found, 75 percent of the time, an El Niño developed within a year.
The scientists’ report, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, says the temperature link happened in September 2013, creating a 76 percent probability that an El Niño will occur in 2014.
Last year, scientists with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society also found that the warming of the Pacific during 2014 could create an El Niño this year, potentially making 2014 the hottest year on record.
If an El Niño did occur, it would be the first since 2010, which is currently the hottest year on record. Additionally, four of the five hottest years on record have included an El Niño. Last year was the fourth hottest year (tied with 2003) since records started being kept in 1880.
According to the National Climatic Data Center (NOAA), 2013 marked the 37th consecutive year since 1976 that the yearly global average temperature was above average. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have occurred during the 21st century, with 1998 being the only hottest year in the 20th century.
Because of climate change, 2014 is likely to be one of the hottest years on record. If an El Niño does develop, it will make this year even hotter.
Already many states throughout the US are experiencing prolonged periods of drought. California may be experiencing the worst drought in 500 years, according to some scientists, and other western states are experiencing similar conditions.
Scientists have long noted that if greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase at a rapid pace, severe drought would also increase substantially.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.