The Real Reason for an Unusually Warm Winter

El Nino and global warming work together to heat things up.

I grew up with Virginia winters; most years the temperature fell around 30 degrees and occasionally we were gifted with a white holiday. This year we walked to Christmas dinner in dresses, our legs relishing in the 60-degree sun. My friends in Minneapolis stared blankly at the sky, wondering where all the snow was.

2015 was the hottest year on record, with 2014 not far behind. In a recent story from NPR, reporter Chris Joyce analyses the changes, stating that the abnormally warm weather is both human and natural caused. In the interview, Joyce speaks with Jake Crouch, a North Carolina meteorologist, and Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist from the environmental group, Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to Crouch and Ekwurzel (and the scientists at NOAA), El Nino is one of the major stimuli for climate change. This phenomenon refers to the weather patterns resulting from variations of ocean temperatures in the Pacific, and affects various areas throughout the globe. 

Joyce explains:

El Nino is a natural warming cycle in the water of the western Pacific Ocean that happens every few years. That extra-warm water sloshes around the Pacific and influences weather over huge parts of the world. In many places, parts of the U.S. for example, that means warm and wet. Ekwurzel says this year’s El Nino is a humdinger in part because the whole planet is, on average, getting warmer. She says global warming is supercharging this year’s El Nino.

Essentially, El Nino and climate change are working together to heat things up.

Ekurzwel continues:

The El Nino conditions, which is a natural phenomenon, is starting at a higher sea surface temperature than it would be if it were completely natural conditions. Therefore we can have a higher risk of a more powerful El Nino.

Even without the added pressure from global warming, this El Nino is one of the strongest in 65 years. It’s impacts are directly affecting the environment. 

The results are evident in databases from NASA and NOAA.  According to the former, nine of the ten warmest years in their 134-record occurred within this century. 1998 was the only exception and featured one of the strongest El Ninos on record.

Everything seems to be heating up.  From

The last cooler-than-average month was over 21 years ago, February 1994. In the 449 months from January 1978 through May 2015, only 11 months have been cooler than average, according to the NASA dataset.

And in addition to all that, the NOAA reports that nine of 10 warmest 12-month periods have occurred over the past two years.

The United States isn’t the only country feeling the ramifications, either. Countries in East Africa have experienced increased rainfall, with flooding in Somalia.  Countries in Southern Africa, on the other hand, are experiencing much drier temperatures, placing more stress on water availability.

In addition to the warm winter, the presence of El Nino will continue to influence ocean conditions, weather patterns, and marine fisheries across the globe. This year, El Nino’s strength is predicted to draw the phenomenon out into the spring months.

Until then, don’t pack away any clothes into storage. We’ve got some wacky weather headed our way.


Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel.  She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at and through Instagram.