What to expect from El Niño and its global impact

El Niño and its impact on climate change, to... 04:03

Extreme weather continues to strike across the country, with floods in the Midwest, a series of drenching storms in California, and a newly-arrived arctic blast in the Northeast. Jeffrey Kluger, editor-at large for Time magazine and Time.com says the Earth is in the midst of a "chronic fever."

"We're already coming off of what's the hottest year on record, 2015," Kluger said on "CBS This Morning." "Now on top of that chronic fever comes the acute fever of El Niño," a complex climate pattern resulting from unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

NASA satellite images predict that this year's El Niño could rival that of 1997 to 1998, which spawned extreme weather that killed 23,000 people worldwide. Calling it a "natural security" issue, Kluger believes this year's El Niño may bring worse.

El Nino's effects being felt around the world... 01:30

"Any time you get food insecurity in any places in the world, you have a tendency for political unrest," Kluger said. "People turn to us when you get this kind of problem. When the U.S. infrastructure is threatened - the way it is along the Mississippi, the way it was in New Orleans ten years ago - these are issues that divert funds, divert resources, divert energy."

According to Kluger, droughts in Central America could threaten as 3.9 million people who lack food and security, as well as 10.2 million people in Africa. In addition to this winter's wild weather patterns in the U.S., El Niño is also expected to bring an extreme heat spike over the summer.

While Kluger calls global warming a "very real phenomenon," he also noted that it could not be isolated as the sole factor. A recent NOAA study shows that climate change was not a factor in some instances of droughts, heavy rains and winter storms in 2014.

Southern California braces for El Nino storms... 01:41

But Kluger also said that doesn't mean climate change is not a mortal threat. "If you're a heavy smoker, not every cold you get is smoking-related but you know that a lot of them are and you very much have to quit your pack-a-day habit if you want to stay healthy."

For now, Kluger suggested some "short term, ameliorative steps" towards addressing the extreme weather threats, including:

  • Making sure there are cooling centers for older people during heat waves
  • Water conservation in drought-stricken areas
  • Building flood walls and levees

"But we also have to be willing to say it's time to address this in the long term," Kluger added. "The Paris climate accord is a very, very good sign. The U.S. as the world's leading emitter has to be willing to take the lead also in curbing this problem."