El Nino + Emissions = Our Toastiest Year Yet


Today the U.K’s weather forecasting division (why can’t we have one of those?) released its projection that the one-two punch of El Niño and global warming could net the world’s warmest ever year on record.

Each January the Met Office issues a global forecast, which takes into account solar effects, El Niño, greenhouse gases concentrations and other multi-decadal influences. Over the previous seven years the annual global temperature forecasts have been right on, with a tiny error mean of just 0.06 °C.

This year the data says there’s a 60 percent chance that 2007 will be hotter than 1998, the current warmest year. The main factor behind the prediction is the onset last year of El Niño, a warming of the eastern Pacific’s equatorial waters that occurs every two to seven years.

Worldwide, the 10 warmest years since 1850 have all occurred in the past 12 years. And with every year of rising temperatures we are seeing species and ecosystems altered beyond their tipping points, with everything from jellyfish to African storks feeling the burn.

In 1998, global temperatures were 0.52 degrees above the long-term average, and this year, the Met Office’s central forecast is for them to be 0.54 degrees above the mean. The forecast explains that while the current El Niño effect — warming parts of the Pacific by between 1 and 3 degrees — isn’t as strong as the 1997-1998 pattern when the ocean warmed in parts by as much as 4 degrees, the signifincantly greater volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is likely to make 2007 warmer still than 1998.

Later this year the U.N.-created Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its fourth assessment on changing weather patterns (and the first since 2001). The report will synthesize data and predictions from thousands of climate scientists from around the world, and offer critical information on climate change. We’ll see if President Bush finds it’s important enough to actually read.

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  • Elizabeth Gettelman is a former managing editor and public affairs director at Mother Jones. To follow her on Twitter, click here.