The current El Nino weather phenomenon could develop into one of the strongest on record, scientists from the World Meteorological Organization said at a news conference Tuesday.
The El Nino event involves a shift in winds in the Pacific Ocean along the equator every few years, with the waters in the Pacific Ocean becoming much warmer than normal and triggering a change in global weather patterns.
Climate models suggest water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius above average, said Rupa Kumar Kolli, an expert at the Geneva-based U.N. body.
“The peak strength of this El Nino expected sometime during October 2015 to January 2016 could potentially place it among the four strongest El Nino events since 1950. The previous three events took place in 1972-73, '82-83 and '97-98,” Kolli said.
The 1997-98 El Nino was linked to more than $33 billion in property damage worldwide.
Typically, the phenomenon alters established weather patterns in different parts of the world, bringing severe drought to parts of Asia while at the same time bringing heavy flooding to some parts of North America.
It can also bring higher rainfall and sometimes flooding to the Horn of Africa, but cause drier conditions in southern Africa.
Climate scientists are better prepared than ever with prediction models and data on El Nino patterns.
But the impact of this El Nino in the Northern Hemisphere was hard to forecast because there was also an Arctic warming effect at work on the Atlantic jet stream, said David Carlson, current director of WMO's World Climate Research Program
"This is a new planet. Will the two patterns reinforce each other or cancel each other? We have no precedent for this situation," Carlson said.
El Nino's impact this year on California is one lingering question. The phenomenon normally would bring heavy winter rains to the coast of California, but WMO scientists say they do not know why California has been suffering from a persistent drought for four years and they cannot be sure drought-breaking rains will come.
VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this report.