The UN has warned that the weather phenomenon El Niño is likely to develop in the coming months. This will fuel higher global temperatures, and possibly new heat records. It will be El Niño’s first appearance in nearly five years, and will exacerbate the deepening climate crisis.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said it now estimated there was a 60% chance that El Niño will develop by the end of July. Failing that, there is an 80% chance it will do so by the end of September. Whilst it is a naturally-occurring weather pattern, El Niño’s interaction with the changing climate means it is likely to have a significant impact.
Wilfran Moufouma Okia, head of WMO’s regional climate prediction services division, said:
El Niño helped create the world’s hottest year
El Niño is typically associated with increased heat worldwide, as well as drought in some parts of the world and heavy rains elsewhere. The climate pattern occurs on average every two to seven years, and usually lasts nine to 12 months. It is typically associated with warming ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
It last occurred in 2018-19. Since 2020, the world has been hit with an exceptionally long La Niña, El Niño’s cooling opposite. But La Niña ended earlier this year, giving rise to the current neutral conditions.
However, despite La Niña’s cooling effect, the UN has said the last eight years were the warmest ever recorded. WMO chief Petteri Taalas said La Niña “acted as a temporary brake on global temperature increase”. Without that weather phenomenon, the warming situation could have been even worse. As a result, Taalas said, we should now “prepare for the development of El Niño” and added that it:
will most likely lead to a new spike in global heating and increase the chance of breaking temperature records
At this stage, there is no indication of the strength or duration of the looming El Niño. The last one was considered very weak, but the one before that – between 2014 and 2016 – was considered among the strongest ever, with dire consequences. The WMO said it created a “double whammy” with greenhouse gas emissions to make 2016 the warmest year on record.
The Canary reported at the time that Taalas said:
We just had the warmest January on record. The signal from human-induced climate change is now as powerful as that from a major natural force of nature
Impacts will be seen in 2024
El Niño’s effect on global temperatures usually plays out the year after it emerges. As a result, its impact will likely become apparent in 2024. Okia commented:
We are expecting in the coming two years to have a serious increase in the global temperatures
Taalas also highlighted that the arrival of El Niño could have some positive effects. He pointed out that it “might bring respite from the drought in the Horn of Africa and other La Niña-related impacts”. Increased rainfall is usually seen in parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa, and central Asia.
Such positive effects are likely to be limited, though. In the past, El Niño has brought severe droughts to Australia, Indonesia, and parts of southern Asia. During summer in the northern hemisphere, El Niño’s warm water can also fuel hurricanes in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, while hindering hurricane formations in the Atlantic Basin.
The WMO said no two El Niño events are the same, and their effects depend, in part, on the time of year. It also added that it and national meteorological services would be closely monitoring developments.
Featured image via Met Office – UK Weather/YouTube
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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