Forest fires in the North, where it is reported of being pretty dry this year, prompting the fires to become widespread easily. Photo: Sayan Chuenudomsavad

El Niño likely increasing later this year: WMO

This would likely fuel higher global temperatures and cause opposite impacts on weather and climate patterns to La Niña, which has been declared as having ended, according to the world’s meteorological monitoring agency, WMO

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued its latest update, saying the likelihood of El Niño developing later this year is increasing. This would have the opposite impact on weather and climate patterns in many regions of the world to the long-running La Niña, and would likely fuel higher global temperatures, the world’s meteorological monitoring agency said.

As explained by the WMO, El Niño is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with the warming of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes usually last nine to 12 months.  

El Niño events are typically associated with increased rainfall in parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa and central Asia. In contrast, El Niño can also cause severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia, and parts of southern Asia.

During the Boreal summer, El Niño’s warm water can fuel hurricanes in the central/eastern Pacific Ocean, while it hinders hurricane formation in the Atlantic Basin, according to the WMO.

The WMO said from February 2023 onwards, there has been a significant increase in sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, with notably stronger warming along the coast of South America. As of mid-April 2023, the sea surface temperatures and other atmospheric and oceanic indicators in the central-eastern tropical Pacific were consistent with ENSO-neutral conditions.

As reported as of May 3, the unusually stubborn La Niña has ended after a three-year run, and the tropical Pacific is currently in an ENSO-neutral state, which means it is neither El Niño nor La Niña, the WMO pointed out.

The WMO said there is a 60% chance for a transition from ENSO-neutral to El Niño during May-July 2023, and this will increase to about 70% in June-August and 80% between July and September. But at this stage there is no indication of the strength or duration of El Niño, the WMO noted.

Credit: WMO

According to the WMO, the world had the eight warmest years on record (2015-2022), even though it had a cooling La Niña for the past three years. This acted as a temporary brake on global temperature increase but the development of an El Niño will most likely lead to a new spike in global heating and increase the chance of breaking temperature records.

According to WMO’s State of the Global Climate reports, 2016 is the warmest year on record because of the “double whammy” of a very powerful El Niño event and human-induced warming from greenhouse gases. The effect on global temperatures usually plays out in the year after its development and so will likely be most apparent in 2024.

The WMO warned that the world should prepare for the development of El Niño, which is often associated with increased heat, drought or rainfall in different parts of the world. 

“It might bring respite from the drought in the Horn of Africa and other La Niña- related impacts, but could also trigger more extreme weather and climate events. This highlights the need for the UN Early Warnings for All initiative to keep people safe,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

WMO and National Meteorological Hydrological Services will be closely monitoring developments as no two El Niño events are the same and the effects depend partly on the time of year, the organisation said. The WMO has also been monitoring other drivers of the Earth’s climate system. These include the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Arctic Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole.

As warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures are generally predicted over oceanic regions, they contribute to the widespread prediction of above-normal temperatures over land areas. Without exception, positive temperature anomalies are expected over all land areas in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, the WMO has projected.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Seree Supratid, Director of the Climate Change and Disaster Center at of Rangsit University, warned that there would be harsh weather in the country and it should brace for this as the phenomenon is now in its transition. 

The IPCC report author said it’s likely that the average temperature could rise as high as 0.3C and this could drive the world temperature to hit the 1.5C threshold earlier than expected. This could increase the local temperature here from its highest record of 44.6 C in mid-April to 44.9-45 C next year. 

He suggested the country best prepare for it with appropriate measures or it could hit a tipping point.

Prof. Seree said there is not much rain this year, and it could decrease significantly when entering the reason and reaching the end of the season. So, the country’s water storage would be relatively small by then. As the effect of El Niño will be in full swing next year, this could be so harsh for the country, he said. The phenomenon is projected that it could last as long as five years, he added.

“Although there is some uncertainty for a long-term projection, but the trend is here and we must be watchful and prepare ourselves for it. Or it will become too late,” warned the professor.

Source: WMO

Also read: State of the climate: Growing El Niño threatens more extreme heat in 2023