Scientists have warned that there is a strong chance of an El Niño weather event forming in the next few months, which can warm the climate and lead to problems around the world.
According to the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is a 75 to 80 percent chance of El Niño developing by February 2019. Although it is not expected to be as strong as the 2016 event that caused record temperatures, it will still have “a major influence on weather and climate patterns.”
According to predictions, it will cause sea surface temperatures to rise by about 0.8 to 1.2°C above average. There is a low chance of a strong event, where temperatures could rise by at least 1.5°C above average.
“The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world,” Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch, said in a statement.
“Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures.”
The event is notoriously difficult to predict, but the WMO said that advances in understanding and modeling the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), to give it its full name, had improved their ability to predict when it would take place. They also noted there was about a 60 percent chance it could continue through to April 2019.
El Niño is a naturally occurring phenomenon that occurs every few years in the central-east equatorial Pacific. It takes place when warm waters shift east along the equator and sit off the coast of northwestern South America.
This can lead to warn and dry conditions in the southern hemisphere, including in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In the northern hemisphere, this can lead to drier conditions in Africa and Brazil, and wetter conditions in places such as the US, South America, and South Asia.
Aside from a change in temperatures around the globe, it can also lead to an increase in storms and drought in certain locations. In particular, developing countries that border the Pacific Ocean are often said to be most at risk.
“It is important to stress that these are typical effects – not specific forecasts – and that actual conditions vary according to the strength and timing of the El Niño event,” the WMO noted. “Other factors can also have an important influence on seasonal climate.”