TIME climate

Why We’ll Keep Having Weird Weather in 2016

2015 brought weird weather thanks to El Niño and other factors

A North Pole with 40°F (4°C) temperatures, extreme flooding across the globe and record storms all contributed to making 2015 a year of weird weather.

While the year is coming to an end, the weird weather is here to stay. Two factors that contributed to a record warm 2015—El Niño and a strong Arctic Oscillation—show no signs of letting up in the first months of 2016. Scientists are predicting another year of record heat and some more bizarre weather events.

El Niño, a global climate phenomenon caused by high sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, has already driven up global temperatures and contributed to storms along the West Coast of the U.S. Climate scientists expect the most intense effects of the phenomenon to occur in early 2016. That means above average temperatures will likely last throughout much of the U.S. until May or June. The accompanying rain couldn’t come soon enough for California, where a years-long drought has left the state desperate for water. In past El Niño events, that state has experienced as much as a 200% increase in rainfall compared to average years.

But weird weather due to El Niño can also have tragic consequences. Humanitarian experts say that in 2016 the event will leave tens of millions hungry and cause water shortages and disease outbreaks, according to an Oxfam report. In California, flooding and landslides will almost certainly devastate some coastal communities.

“If your house is on the side of a cliff facing the Pacific Ocean, there’s not much you can do if there’s a landslide,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center. “But you certainly don’t want to be in the house.”

Read More: Here’s Why the East Coast Has Been So Warm

In recent years, a weak Arctic Oscillation has allowed cold air to escape the Arctic, leading to a chilly winter in the Northeast U.S. But the Oscillation appears to be holding strong, according to NOAA data, lessening the chance of a chilly winter.

Climate phenomena like El Niño are not new occurrences, but scientists say that global warming has contributed to making them larger and more damaging. NOAA’s Deke Ardnt likens climate change to a flight of stairs. “Over time you get higher and higher,” Ardnt told The Guardian. “El Niño is like standing on your tippy toes when you’re on one of those stairs. Both of those together work to create the warmest temperature on record.”

Countries have begun to implement plans to slow their greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, slow global warming in recognition of those impacts. But greenhouse gases already in the air will likely continue to cause weird weather for years and decades to come. In other words, the weird weather is here to stay.

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