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El Niño ties 1997-1998 episode as strongest on record

El Niño strengthened in the final months of 2015 to tie a record as the most intense iteration of the global climate pattern ever observed.

Anomalies in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean were as large from October through December as they were at the peak of the 1997-1998 El Niño, according to the Climate Prediction Center, an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in College Park. The warm waters are a key signal associated with El Niño and have domino effects on weather around the globe.

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El Niño records go back to 1950.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the federal Climate Prediction Center, told the Associated Press he is eager to see what conditions are present in January, when El Niño's impacts peak.

El Niño is known for causing drought in Indonesia and Australia and mudslides and flooding in Peru, for example. Southern Californians were thanking the climate pattern for bringing rain to the parched region Tuesday.

In Maryland, its impacts are less certain, but it is associated with winters that are generally mild but can bring major snowstorms. That is because it sends moisture streaming across the southern third of the country, and with the right weather patterns, that can translate into powerful "nor'easter" storms that move up the East Coast.

Meteorologists have blamed El Niño for record global warmth in 2015 as well as the record-setting mild pattern that dominated December locally.

This El Niño began in February 2015 and is forecast to continue through late spring or early summer, according to the climate center.

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