Sweltering summers, short winters, and freak heat waves are here to stay, according to the Guardian.
That’s because annual variations in climate patterns are combining with long-term climate change trends to make the planet hotter than it would otherwise be if either variable were acting in isolation, according to a new report published in the journal Nature Communications.
In other words, the climate is affected both by annual fluctuations and longer-term events like the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. When both of these forces act in concert, the warming effect is increased.
“Everything seems to be adding up,” Florian Sévellec, a co-author of the paper and researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, told the Guardian. “There is a high possibility that we will be at the peak of a warm phase for the next couple of years.”
Throughout the 2000s, a different story was playing out. Fluctuations in year-to-year climate patterns exerted a cooling pressure on the planet, temporarily subduing the long-term warming effects of climate change.
But that heating “hiatus” is now being reversed, according to the report. From now through 2022, the planet’s long-term heating trends are going to amplified by annual fluctuations.
The researchers looked at how 10 different climate models predicted previous years and then extrapolated that data forward, according to the Washington Post.
They found that seasonal fluctuations will skew warmer, rather than colder. All things considered, that annual bump won’t be very dramatic, according to the Post, but it will allow for the full effects of climate change to be more keenly felt.
If another El Niño happens in the next few years, it will likely be even more powerful.
That’s because there’s a 400% chance that oceans, which feed powerful storms like El Niño, will experience an extreme warming event at some point through 2022, a prospect that bodes badly for the world’s coral reefs.
High water temperatures cause the symbiotic organisms that live on coral reefs and provide color to die, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Over the past several years, coral bleaching has caused widespread death among the world’s reefs.
On land, higher temperatures could mean droughts, forest fires, and the devastating effects of heat waves.
Earlier in the year, at least 65 people died in Pakistan because a severe heat wave was made worse by rolling blackouts and water shortages. Later, a heat wave struck the United Kingdom, killing hundreds.
Throughout parts of Europe and California, record-breaking forest fires scorched millions of acres of land.
A firefighter pulls a water hose as a wildfires continues to burn on Dec. 5, 2017, in Santa Paula, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city's foothills burned scores of homes and structures.
While each year won’t necessarily be hotter than the last, the overall trend will be significantly warmer.
“Natural variability is a wriggle around the freight train that is global warming,” Sévellec told the Guardian. “On a human scale, it is what we feel. What we don’t always feel is global warming. As a scientist, this is frightening because we don’t consider it enough. All we can do it give people information and let them make up their own mind.”