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El Niño Conditions Mean 2015 Could Be the Hottest Year Ever

Temperatures for the first five months of the year were the highest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Photo by Jagadeesh NV/EPA

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It just keeps getting hotter and hotter.

The first five months of 2015 were the warmest ever recorded, which means this year may well become the hottest year on record, surpassing last year's chart-topping temperatures.

Temperatures in May were the highest for the month since 1880, rising 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, according to the monthly climate update published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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"This is a pattern of increasing temperature that we have seen for decades, … it is very consistent with what we have been seeing for the past 20 years or so," Deke Arndt, ?chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, told VICE News.

One contributing factor in the intense heat of 2014 and 2015 is the weather event El Niño, a warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. According to NOAA data, the current El Niño event, which is expected to continue through the fall and into the winter, is likely to lead to higher global temperatures.

"El Nino has profound impact regionally and it can certainly overwhelm the global signal. The fact that 2014 and 2015 are sticking up as warmer than the two or three years before them probably has a lot to do with El Niño, Arndt said. "But the fact that they were already close to the top to begin with has a lot to do with the long term climate change."

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The May data also fell in line with other larger trends noticed by climate scientists, such as wet places getting wetter, while drier places experience more droughts, Arndt said.

"It is also true for the oceans. If we consider the salty parts of the oceans to be the desert where not much rainfall occurs, they are getting saltier and the fresh parts are getting fresher," he said.

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For the United States, this May had near average temperatures, but the highest amount of rainfall, making it the wettest month on record. "Big rains are getting bigger, and more of our rains are coming in big rains," Arndt said.

Alaska's snow cover extent was also at a record low for May.

NOAA also forecast that the current drought in the western part of the United States would either persist or intensify across vast swathes of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, while both North and South Carolina are likely to see drought conditions develop.

While warming temperatures are often taken to be one of the surest measures of climate change, scientists say that increased frequencies of extreme weather events like droughts and floods are more reliable signs of a rapidly transforming global climate.

"A month or year does not have to be warmest on record to be significant. We don't have to have record high temperatures to be hot," NOAA's Arndt told VICE News. "We can be uncomfortable, distressed and heat stressed even when the temperatures are not record warm. Just being in the neighborhood is stressful and expensive."

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