The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed on Sept. 1 that “a mature and strong El Niño is now present in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The majority of international climate outlook models suggest that the 2015-16 El Niño is likely to strengthen further before the end of the year.”
El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by warming of the Pacific Ocean’s surface water due to weakened easterly trade winds. For the region, this results in strong rains, flooding, droughts, high temperatures that can consistently destroy infrastructure, and loss of agricultural production, biodiversity and even human lives.
According to the WMO, during August, east-central tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures have ranged between +1.3º and +2.0º Celsius above average. And the prediction is that temperatures are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius above average, potentially placing this El Niño event among the four strongest events since 1950 (1972-1973, 1982-83, 1997-98).
David Carlson, Director of the World Climate Research Program at the WMO, clarified when presenting the report that the phenomenon is occurring under new conditions influenced by climate change. He added that since the last episode of El Niño (1997-98, we have lost a massive area of northern hemisphere snow cover, probably losing more than 1 million square kilometers of snow cover in the northern hemisphere.
“This is a new planet and we fully do not understand the new patterns emerging. The truth is we don´t know what will happen. Will the two patterns reinforce each other? Will they cancel each other? Are they going to act in sequence? We have no precedent for this situation,” said Carlson, referring to the reduction of the ice caps in the Arctic and the phenomenon of El Niño.
Rupa Kumar Kolli, Chief of the World Climate Applications and Services Division of the WMO, affirmed that “the peak strength of this El Nino expected sometimes during October 2015 to January 2016.”
The Central American Agricultural Council (CAC), composed of the agricultural ministries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama declared a regional alert on August 20 due to the intensification of the drought affecting approximately 2 million people.
Julio Calderón, Executive Secretary of the CAC, stated that the alert is “a call of attention to the authorities that this is a critical situation and could get worse.”
At a meeting in Managua, Nicaragua, organizations dedicated to managing risk reported in a press conference on Sept. 3 that the “picture is extremely critical.” In Honduras the government declared a state of food emergency due to the drought which has left almost a million people without food, while in Guatemala losses of up to 100% of crops such as corn and beans has been reported.
Differing from Central America, the coastal regions of South America, particularly those of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, will experience intense rains, while in the Caribbean an increase in hurricanes frequency has been predicted.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this past July registered the highest temperatures on a world-wide level in 136 years, reaching an average temperature of 16.6º Celsius, 0.08º Celsius higher than in July of 1998. For scientists, climate change and the impact of El Niño are the cause of these record temperatures.
“The world is warming. It is continuing to warm. That is being shown time and time again in our data,” said Jake Crouch, NOAA’s scientist. “Now that we are fairly certain that 2015 will be the warmest year on record, it is time to start looking at what are the impacts of that? What does that mean for people on the ground?”
NOAA has established that a probability greater than 90% exists that El Niño will continue until March of 2016 and a probability greater than 85% that it will persist through June.