Shortly after one of the strongest El Niños on record, scientists are finding reason to believe another one may be on its way later this year. As of yet, they are uncertain of the strength of the weather pattern, but even a mild El Niño could mean wetter conditions in the southern US, drier conditions in the Midwest, and drought conditions in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America.
El Niño can also result in exacerbation of warmer temperatures due to climate change. The El Niño of 2015 and 2016 led to two of the warmest years on record.
El Niño is a result of shifting warm water in the equatorial Pacific, which leads to a large warm zone in the central and eastern regions of the ocean. In turn, more heat and moisture is contributed to the air, which affects wind patterns called jet streams throughout the planet. In the 2015 – 2016 El Niño, water temperatures in the Pacific rose as much as 4 degrees above normal. That system gave way to La Niña, which saw the ocean become much cooler than normal, which lasted throughout 2016.
The new prediction was released Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They said that though current conditions are neutral, there is a 50 percent chance of El Niño in the second half of this year.
According to deputy director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, Mike Halpert, such a quick transition from El Niño to La Niña and back again has only happened once before on record, in the 1960s. He also said the current conditions observed by forecasters were at odds with the computer models of the global climate used to make forecasts.
“If you just look at the current state of the ocean and the atmosphere, it doesn’t really look like what we typically expect to see as we head into El Niño. There’s been a little bit of head scratching,” Halpert said.
A researcher from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, Dan Osgood, said the strong El Niño showed how important planning is to deal with these events.
“One of the really interesting things coming out of the past cycle is that people are more focused on predicting what’s going to happen. It’s about getting organized so you’re not caught unprepared.”