Global temperatures are likely to reach new highs this year with the predicted onset of El Nino, a natural occurring phenomenon typically associated with the warming of the planet.
“The development of an El Nino will most likely lead to a new spike in global heating and increase the chance of breaking temperature records,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.
That is bad news for global efforts to reduce climate change. Taalas noted that the onset of El Nino follows the eight warmest years on record “even though we had a cooling La Nina for the past three years and this acted as a temporary brake on global temperature increase.”
El Nino is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with the warming of ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, La Nina refers to the periodic cooling of ocean surface temperatures.
The recent unusually long running La Nina event, which began in 2020 now has ended.
Wilfran Moufouma Okia, head of the WMO regional climate prediction services division, said scientific models show that La Nina currently is in a neutral state and moving toward a different phase.
“The next few months from May to July, we have a 60% chance to enter into an El Nino phase. This likelihood will increase to 70% in the period of July to August, and even to 80% if we go past August,” he said. “But, of course, beyond that we cannot say much.”
He said the evolution of El Nino this year will change the weather and climate pattern worldwide compared to what existed during the past three consecutive years of La Nina.
“If we think of La Nina as a sort of break in the warming engine, La Nina corresponds to a cooling of the ocean, which normally should kind of slow down the rise of temperature, El Nino will fuel the temperature globally.
“So, we are expecting in the coming two years to have a serious increase in the global temperature,” he said.
Scientists say the concentrations of two important greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide, which lead to global warming and climate change, go up significantly during an El Nino year.
The WMO says the effect on global temperatures usually plays out in the year after El Nino’s development and likely will become apparent in 2024.
“The world should prepare for the development of El Nino, which is often associated with increased heat, drought or rainfall in different parts of the world,” said Taalas.
“It might bring respite from the drought in the Horn of Africa and other La Nina-related impacts but could also trigger more extreme weather and climate events.”
For example, the WMO said El Nino is likely to trigger heavy rainfall in parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa, and central Asia.
In contrast, El Nino can cause severe droughts over Australia, Indonesia, and parts of southern Asia.
WMO chief Talaas warns the extreme weather events that will be unleashed by El Nino “highlights the need for the U.N. ‘Early Warnings for All’ initiative to keep people safe.”
Since no two El Nino events are the same and the effects depend partly on the time of year, meteorologists say the WMO and National Meteorological Hydrological Services will be closely monitoring developments.