Impacts expected for months to come
Meteorologists say the 2015-2016 El Niño has peaked, but it remains strong and will continue to influence global weather in the months ahead. With eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures more than 2 degrees Celsius above average in late 2015, this El Niño will go down as one of the strongest on record, although it’s not clear if it was the strongest ever, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
For now, the outlook is that El Niño will fade during the next half year. As typically happens, El Niño reached its peak ocean surface temperature during November and December, but those temperatures have since declined by about half a degree.
“We have just witnessed one of the most powerful ever El Niño events which caused extreme weather in countries on all continents and helped fuel record global heat in 2015,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. “In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come,” Taalas said.
“Parts of South America and East Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought – which by its nature is a slowly developing disaster – is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, central America and a number of other regions,” he said.
“The world was better prepared for this event than ever before. Scientific research conducted during this event will enhance our understanding of El Niño and the inter-linkages between this naturally occurring climate phenomenon and human-induced climate change,” said Mr Taalas. “Lessons learned from this El Niño will be used to further build our resilience to weather related hazards, which will increase as a result of climate change.”
The WMO update indicate a return to an ENSO neutral state during the second quarter of 2016. It is too early to predict whether there will be a swing to La Niña (the opposite of El Niño) after that.
It is important to note that El Niño and La Niña are not the only factors that drive global climate patterns. For example, the state of the Indian Ocean (the Indian Ocean Dipole), or the Tropical Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature, are also capable of affecting the climate in the adjacent land areas. Northern hemisphere winter conditions are influenced by the so-called Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillations.