Environment

Extreme Weather Becoming a Problem Worldwide

2015, which was the hottest year on record, had flurries of bizarre weather patterns that seemed to confirm the fears of many that climate change is already having an effect. Even for those who don't believe human activity and greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to rising temperatures, a number of recent events have been notably worrisome.

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Severe weather patterns

A few examples of extreme or unusual weather have cropped up in recent weeks, with 70-degree December weather in the northeast, a slew of deadly tornados in Texas, and flooding across the Midwest. The New York Times declared the spring-like December weather on the Eastern Seaboard a "fitting end" to an abnormally warm year.

Dozens of people were killed by severe weather in December, along with dozens more injured, according to the Associated Press. Multiple states also declared emergencies, and in Texas, where temperatures had reached the 80s during the slew of tornados, snow storms and freezing temperatures touched down soon after. At one point, some Southwest and Midwest states had winter storm warnings and advisories, tornado watches, and flash flood warnings and advisories — all simultaneously.

In Missouri and Illinois, there was record flooding over the past week with rivers there on track to surpass the "Great Flood" of 1993. The result has been thousands of evacuations and at least 21 deaths.

That same storm system later moved over the North Pole, where it brought temperatures of more than 50 degrees above December averages and above freezing for only the second time on record. The unusually warm temperatures —which reached 43 degrees Fahrenheit in the 24-hours-a-day-dark Arctic — caused some to worry about the impact that warmer weather could have on ice sheet formation, the importance of which has become apparent in the face of record melting in the non-winter months.

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Other abnormally strong weather patterns earlier in the year appeared in the form of powerful hurricanes, which moved through record land and ocean temperatures.

Strong El Niño season

Many of the warmer and more powerful weather systems have been at least partially explained by an especially strong El Niño season, which naturally brings warmer, wetter weather. But many suspect that this El Niño could be the strongest on record, being amplified by the effects of climate change, especially given that 2015 was the hottest year on record. In November, the United Nation's weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization, warned of "uncharted territory."

"So this naturally occurring El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced. Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told Reuters.