NewsNovember 16, 2015

One Graph Shows El Niño's New Record

Brian Kahn

By Brian Kahn

Follow @blkahn

This year’s El Niño officially climbed to the top of the record books (at least by one measure).

Weekly data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the region of the Pacific generally used to gauge El Niño’s strength has officially surpassed the 1997-98 super El Niño in terms of warmth.


The hot waters in the Pacific are helping drive up temperatures globally as well as affect the world’s weather. This year has been on the fast track to the hottest year on record and the new Niño heat is only likely to crank the heat up even further.

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The region in question, called the Nino 3.4 region, is now running an unheard of 5.4°F (3°C) above normal. That tops the previous weekly record of 5°F (2.8°C) set by the 1997-98 event. It remains to be seen if this is the peak and if so, how long it lasts.

Regardless, the impacts of El Niño are being felt in some part of the globe. Indonesia’s fires, heavy precipitation in the southern tier of the U.S., and record warmth around the globe are all telltale signs of how El Niño usually influences weather.

In the U.S., the winter outlook also further shows El Niño is likely to continue exerting its influence with the increased likelihood of cool, unsettled weather from the Southwest to the Southeast and warm conditions in the northern portion of the country.

While everybody loves a good record, it’s worth keeping any debate about the strongest El Niño on record in perspective. The Nino 3.4 region is an important one to monitor in terms of global impacts, but it’s only one of a handful of regions scientists monitor to assess El Niño’s strength and characteristics. Areas off the coast of Peru and the far eastern Pacific were warmer during the 1997-98 El Niño. It also remains to be seen if this year’s event will set an all-time monthly or seasonal record, which would bolster its case for strongest, biggest or whatever-ist on record.

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