El Niño Peaks Among the Strongest on Record, Influencing Global Climate

El Niño Peaks Among the Strongest on Record, Influencing Global Climate

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently declared the 2023-24 El Niño as one of the five strongest on record, despite its current weakening trend. Projections indicate that the impact of El Niño will persist in shaping the global climate in the upcoming months. Additionally, the WMO anticipates above-normal temperatures across nearly all land areas from March to May.

Unprecedented Record Temperatures and Extreme Weather Events

El Niño’s prevailing conditions have contributed to record temperatures and extreme weather events globally, resulting in 2023 being identified as the warmest year on record. The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that the global mean temperature exceeded the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold for an entire year in January. However, it is crucial to understand that a sustained breach of the 1.5-degree Celsius limit, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, implies long-term warming over many years.

Outlook for El Niño and Potential La Niña Development

The WMO’s latest update indicates a roughly 60% chance of El Niño persisting from March to May, with an 80% probability of neutral conditions (neither El Niño nor La Niña) during April to June. While there is a possibility of La Niña developing later in the year, the odds remain uncertain. Experts monitoring developments in India suggest that if La Niña conditions emerge by June-August, it could lead to improved monsoon rains compared to 2023.

Characteristics of El Niño and Regional Impacts

El Niño manifests as a periodic warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, occurring every two to seven years on average and typically lasting nine to 12 months. Its effects include increased rainfall in the Horn of Africa and the southern United States, coupled with unusually dry and warm conditions in Southeast Asia, Australia, and southern Africa.

Greenhouse Gases and Temperature Rise

Celeste Saulo, Secretary-General of the WMO, emphasized that while El Niño has contributed to record temperatures, the primary driver behind the temperature increase is the presence of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. She expressed concern about persistently high sea-surface temperatures worldwide for the past 10 months, a phenomenon not solely attributable to El Niño.

Importance of Early Warnings and Preparedness

Highlighting the significance of El Niño and La Niña events, the WMO emphasized the increased accuracy of seasonal forecasts during such periods, especially in the tropics. Early warnings play a pivotal role in decision-making, preparedness, and anticipatory action. Secretary-General Celeste Saulo noted that precise seasonal forecasts from the WMO community have enabled countries to proactively prepare and mitigate damages in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, water resources, and health, ultimately saving numerous lives.