El Niño expected to cause floods and heatwaves into early 2024, warn scientists

Dubai floods

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Dubai floods - Figure 1
Photo Financial Times

Climate scientists predict that the cyclical phenomenon of El Niño, which contributed to the global temperature reaching a record high this year, and is currently causing irregular and damaging weather conditions, will continue until 2024.

The warming effect that happens naturally in the Pacific Ocean has the capacity to make the temperatures around the globe go up and create serious damage to crop productivity in some specific regions. Many businesses involved in different fields, such as food and transportation, have expressed their concerns regarding the disruption of the supply chain and goods, as well as the increase in the hazard level of their insurance policies.

The National Institute of Meteorology in Brazil has declared a red alert for high temperatures in various regions during the current spring season.

The city of Rio de Janeiro had its highest temperature of the year so far on Saturday. The Marambaia station in Rio's western area recorded a scorching temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the El Niño occurrence will likely persist until the following April. This year is anticipated to be the hottest year ever documented, and in 2024, temperatures may even surpass those of 2023, as stated by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Dubai floods - Figure 2
Photo Financial Times

El Niño is usually connected with increased temperatures in the atmosphere, especially in the following year. However, Taalas highlighted that the rise in temperature levels being observed can be attributed to human activity generating greenhouse gases that have a warming effect.

The occurrence of El Niño is linked to increased moisture levels in certain regions worldwide. According to reports from the WMO, there will be an elevated amount of precipitation in parts of South America, the Horn of Africa, and central & eastern Asia in the coming three months. Taalas notes that extreme weather events such as drought, wildfires, heatwaves, heavy rainfall, and floods will be more prevalent in certain areas and have a major impact.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that El Niño has made the worst flooding in Somalia in 100 years even worse. They are currently helping 680,000 individuals affected by the floods. According to the Somali Disaster Management Agency's social media account on X, 50 people have been reported dead due to the "El Niño floods."

Last week in Dubai, the designated location for the imminent UN climate conference, severe flooding occurred. As a result, police issued safety warnings, flights were cancelled, and schools were forced to temporarily close.

Dubai floods - Figure 3
Photo Financial Times

Over the past few days, numerous areas in the southern hemisphere, including locations such as Kenya and the Dominican Republic, have experienced an overflow of rainfall resulting in hazardous conditions and significant interference with daily life.

The ongoing El Niño happening this year is not as intense as the ones in 1997 and 2015-2016, but it is still deemed as a "strong" occurrence by the World Meteorological Organization.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the variance in sea surface temperatures within the Pacific Ocean region that is being impacted has grown to 1.5 degrees Celsius greater than its standard average in September. This is a significant increase compared to May, when it was only 0.5 degrees Celsius above the typical average.

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As we look towards the coming year, Walter Baethgen, a researcher at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has predicted that the current strong warming of the Pacific Ocean may be followed by a period of strong cooling, known as La Niña, in contrast to the well-known El Niño phenomenon.

Dubai floods - Figure 4
Photo Financial Times

In the past, there was a powerful warming occurrence in 1997 and 1998 that resulted in an extended cooling period from the middle of 1998 until early 2001. In the present, there were three consecutive La Niña cooling incidences between 2020-2022; however, the effect was not very strong.

However, there is no definite assurance of this fluctuating trend, and it is tough to predict the climatic situations for each year until the period of “spring predictability barrier” elapses during the months of March to May.

The year before this one was the hottest ever recorded. During this year, the Pacific Ocean experienced a cooling period known as La Niña. The year before that, in 2016, the Pacific Ocean experienced a heating period known as El Niño, which made it the hottest year up to that point.

The phenomenon known as El Niño happens about once every two to seven years and generally persists for approximately one year.

According to Baethgen, the impact of cooling and warming trends in the Pacific Ocean is limited to specific areas near the equator. These effects are not as powerful as the significant temperature changes caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

To consistently and effectively lower global temperatures, the only solution is to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases. This fact is not up for debate or open to any alternative methods.

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