Climate Change

International weather agency warns of a stronger El Niño

The peak three-month average surface water temperature in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above normal

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Wednesday 18 November 2015

The El Niño event (heating of surface ocean water off the Australian coast) is expected to gain more strength by this year end, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations weather agency.

A strong El Niño is already causing extreme weather events across the world, such as for instance the drought-like situation in South Asia.

If the WMO forecast comes true, then this year’s El Niño will be among the four strongest events since 1950. Previously thrice (1972-73, 1982-83 and 1997-98), the world witnessed strong El Niño events.

The WMO said that the peak three-month average surface water temperature in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean will exceed 2 degrees Celsius above normal.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, which is the result of the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific.

Typically, El Niño events peak up late in the calendar year, gaining maximum strength between October and January in the following year. They often continue throughout much of the first quarter of the next year before dying down.

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding throughout the tropical and sub-tropical zones bear the hallmark of this El Niño, which has been the strongest in over 15 years,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

The WMO has also released an animation, “The El Niño of 2015-16”, to explain the event, its impact and preparedness by countries.

“We are better prepared for this event than we have ever been in the past. On the basis of advice from the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services, the worst-affected countries are planning for El Niño and its impacts on sectors like agriculture, fisheries, water and health, and implementing disaster-management campaigns to save lives and minimise economic damage and disruption,” he added.

“The preparedness for this El Niño will benefit from the systems WMO has been working to strengthen since the last major event in 1997-1998.”

The WMO released its update on the eve of an international El Niño conference in New York, of which the weather agency is a major co-sponsor.

The conference was organised to increase the scientific understanding of this event as well as its impact, and help boost resilience to counter global socio-economic shocks. “Our scientific understanding of El Niño has increased greatly in recent years. However, this event is playing out in the uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change, the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic Sea ice and of over a million square km of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere,” Jarraud said.

“Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

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