Meteorologists have announced the formation of an El Nino that has arrived earlier than expected and is likely to be formidable, causing global weather disturbances and amplifying Earth’s already increasing temperatures with an added boost of natural heat.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an advisory on Thursday about the El Nino’s arrival, but noted that this climatic event may not be similar to those in the past. This El Nino has occurred earlier than usual and has the potential to be stronger than previous ones.
According to Michelle L’Heureux, the head of NOAA’s El Nino/La Nina forecast office, this El Nino has formed one to two months earlier than usual, which gives it more time to intensify. She added that there is a 56% probability of it being strong and a 25% probability of it reaching a level considered as supersized.
Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University, has warned that if this El Nino becomes the largest event on record, it would have the shortest gap between such occurrences. This leaves communities with less time to recover from damages to their infrastructure, agriculture, and ecosystems, such as coral reefs. Consequently, this could pose a significant challenge to them.
Typically, El Nino events suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic region, which brings relief to coastal areas across various states, including Texas, New England, Central America, and the Caribbean, that have faced record-busy hurricane seasons in recent years. However, this time, meteorologists predict that this relief may not occur due to record high Atlantic temperatures. These temperatures would counteract the winds of an El Nino, which often execute many storms.
According to Kristopher Karnauskas, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, warm seawater provides the energy hurricanes need to intensify, and the Atlantic tropical regions are particularly warm. As such, NOAA and other organizations are forecasting a near-average Atlantic hurricane season this year.
Historically, when El Nino events are strong, they have caused record global warmth, as seen in 2016 and 1998. Earlier this year, scientists predicted that next year has a higher likelihood of breaking temperature records, especially with El Ninos typically attaining peak strength in winter. However, this El Nino has commenced earlier than expected, impacting the probability and causing concern.
According to Marshall Shepherd, a meteorology professor at the University of Georgia, the onset of El Nino could have serious consequences, contributing to 2023 possibly becoming the warmest year on record, particularly when combined with background climate-warming factors.
El Nino is a natural, temporary, and infrequent warming of a part of the Pacific Ocean, which can alter weather patterns across the globe by redirecting storm paths. Earlier this year, the world recovered from an unusually intense and prolonged cooling event known as La Nina, which worsened drought in the western United States and led to an active Atlantic hurricane season.
As a result, some weather patterns experienced over the last few years, such as drought, may reverse with the onset of El Nino. Although flooding isn’t desirable, many parts of the world, especially those that have experienced intense droughts, may benefit from El Nino’s occurrence. As L’Heureux stated, “A shift towards wet weather and away from drought might be a welcome development for those who have been struggling with profound drought for three years, such as in South America.”
Over the course of the next few months during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, the impact of El Nino will be felt mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with minimal effects in North America, as stated by L’Heureux.
In Australia, the impact of El Nino typically results in drier and warmer weather conditions, whereas Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela are expected to be drier, with wetter weather patterns forecast in Southeast Argentina and certain parts of Chile. Additionally, India and Indonesia will generally experience dry weather conditions through August during an El Nino event.
Although El Nino leads to reduced hurricane activity in the Atlantic, it often results in an increase in tropical cyclones in the Pacific, according to L’Heureux.
El Nino’s strongest influence is typically noticeable between December and February when it moves the winter storm trajectory southwards, closer to the equator.
During El Nino, the United States’ southern third to half, including California, generally tends to be wetter. Previously, California had long been experiencing a megadrought and had been hoping for rain relief from El Nino. However, the seemingly never-ending occurrence of atmospheric rivers this winter made that no longer necessary, according to L’Heureux.
As per L’Heureux, the US Pacific Northwest and regions of the Ohio Valley are likely to experience dry and warm weather conditions as a result of El Nino. However, some areas, such as Indonesia, and nearby parts of Asia, may undergo more severe effects, resulting in hotter and drier weather, affecting the region. Additionally, the southern parts of Africa are expected to go dry.
Azhar Ehsan, an associate research scientist at Columbia University, stated that northeast African regions, which have been facing drought conditions due to prolonged La Nina events, will benefit from the beneficial rainfall that El Nino could bring.
Several economic studies have shown that La Nina typically causes more extensive damages across the United States and the globe as compared to El Nino.
An economic study in 2017 showed that El Nino has a positive impact on the economies of the United States and Europe, while it has cost countries like Australia, Chile, Indonesia, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa.
However, a recent study has indicated that El Nino could be more expensive globally than initially thought, with damage estimates measured in trillions of dollars. In 1997-1998, the World Bank estimated that El Nino cost different governments USD 45 billion.
Despite the benefits that El Nino offers, the United States still faces various hazards. With the increased rainfall in California, Oregon, and Washington, there is a heightened risk of landslides and flash flooding in these areas, as noted by Ehsan. “While El Nino brings benefits in terms of water resource recharge, it poses certain hazards that need to be considered and managed,” he added.