How likely is an El Niño to break global mean surface temperature record during the 21st Century?
The likelihood of an El Niño to break the global mean surface temperature (GMST) record during the 21st century is derived from 38 climate models in the Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). We find that, under a low emission scenario, one out of three El Niño events breaks the GMST record. The probability significantly increases to four out of five in a high emission scenario. About half of strong El Niños, but only one-fifth of weak El Niños, can set new GMST records in a low emission scenario. By contrast, even weak El Niños can break the GMST record more regularly (68%±8% chance) in high emission scenario. Both stronger El Niño and higher emission scenario induce a higher record-breaking GMST with magnitude range from 0.03°C to 0.21°C above the previous record. El Niño accounts for more than half of record-breaking GMST occurrences in all emission scenarios. A comparison between CMIP3, CMIP5, and CMIP6 suggests that the analyses are not affected by model complexity.