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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Record-Shattering Year Of Warmth In Northwest

2016 is coming in hot, with January smashing climate records by a wide margin.

Last month was easily the warmest January the world has ever recorded, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It followed a record-shattering year of warmth around the world, including the Pacific Northwest.

Fueled by greenhouse gas emissions and a strong El Niño, January 2016 left previous Januaries in the dust: it was 1.87 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average. At the global scale, that's a wide margin.

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The only other month to be more abnormally warm was December 2015, which was 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average December of the 20th century.

"This marks the ninth consecutive month we've broken the record," NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch said.

The weather records go back to 1880.

"For us in Washington and the Northwest, 2015 was the warmest year in the temperature record," climate scientist Joe Casola with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington said.

Meteorologist Logan Johnson with the National Weather Service said 2015 was also the warmest year on record in Seattle.

This January was warmer than usual in Seattle and the Northwest, but it did not break any monthly temperature records.

Climate on Steroids

Scientists said a combination of pollution and the effects of El Niño have fueled the warming over the past year, though it's hard to separate the two causes.

"It's like saying which of Barry Bonds' home runs were caused by steroids and which weren't," Casola said. "That attribution case is very difficult."

Stefan Rahmstorf with Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told Mashable that more than 80 percent of the record warmth is human-caused.

Last year was nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in the Pacific Northwest. Casola said it was so warm that it resembled what climate models predict for the Northwest 30 years from now, if humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the air.

"It's kind of a sneak preview," he said.

Efforts in Washington, D.C., and in Washington state to stem the pollution that's fueling the record temperatures are in limbo.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change agenda, on Feb. 9. The plan aims to reduce emissions from power plants, America's largest source of greenhouse gases. The Clean Power Plan is on hold while lower courts review legal challenges 26 states brought against the plan.

After Washington state legislators defeated Gov. Jay Inslee's plan to broadly regulate carbon emissions with a cap-and-trade system last year, Inslee moved to regulate emissions from the state's biggest polluters, such as refineries and pulp mills, without seeking the legislature's approval.

The Washington Department of Ecology is taking public comment on Inslee's proposed carbon regulations through April 8.

Warmer and Wetter

One record Seattle did break this winter: as of late Thursday night, it is now Seattle's wettest winter on record.

The National Weather Service says we've gotten nearly two feet (22.78 inches) of rain since the start of December.

Casola said climate models predict only a slight increase in total precipitation for the Pacific Northwest as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere keep rising.

"This has been pretty remarkable," Johnson said. "This El Niño has behaved a little bit differently than other strong El Niños in the past."

He said other strong El Niños have led to less rain in western Washington, but this one has helped send more storms here.

Year started with KUOW: 2009