The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced yesterday that the powerful 2015-2016 El Ni√±o has passed its peak but will continue influencing weather across the world. It is expected to disappear by the second quarter of 2016. According to measurements, the tropical Pacific Ocean showed sea surface temperatures (SST) were more than 2 degrees Celsius above normal by mid-December 2015. Since recordkeeping began, this El Ni√±o is considered one of the strongest.
Some scientists are even suggesting this El Ni√±o (Spanish for Christ Child) was made worse by global warming, while others say this El Ni√±o made global warming appear worse. One such scientist is Creighton University Professor Emeritus Dr. Art Douglas, who says this El Ni√±o, while very big, was “comparable to others 100 to 120 years ago. Secondly, when we actually look at the graph of water temperatures off the coast of Washington, Oregon, all the way down to off of Chile.
“They were very steady from about 1976 to 2013 — meaning there was not much variable other than every other year may have been warm or cool,” he added. Dr. Douglas was speaking at the annual Pacific Northwest Farm Forum that had just wrapped up. He also said that with this El Ni√±o, SSTs “went way up — as I said 8/10s of a degree centigrade.”
Douglas says those reports claiming that global warming “put an extra oomph” into this El Ni√±o and making it stronger have got it backwards. He says it is the “other way around and that this El Ni√±o — called a Mega El Ni√±o — all it did was maybe create the global warming effect to appear to be the main cause — but it’s not.” That’s similar to WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas comment that this El Ni√±o event “caused extreme weather in countries on all continents and helped fuel record global heat in 2015.”
Taalas also says that in meteorological terms, “this El Ni√±o 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.” It has also caused torrential rains and flooding in parts of South America and East Africa. This has lead to an uptick in the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes that require clean water to lay their eggs.
While it’s still too early to say whether this El Ni√±o will morph into a La Ni√±a, previous El Ni√±os of this magnitude were followed by La Ni√±as. La Ni√±as are notable because SSTs become colder-than-normal in the same region, by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, and this has ramifications on our climate and Atlantic hurricane season. The reason many scientists believe this flip will occur is that since 1950, 11 of the last 15 strong El Ni√±os were immediately followed by equally strong La Ni√±as. The WMO says it’s still too early to say if this swing will occur.