WMO alert – El Niño to last until April 2024

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has released a statement warning that the impacts of El Niño will further exacerbate extreme weather and climate events through to April next year.

El Niño has already seen extreme heatwaves throughout the northern hemisphere in July–August. Multiple records were obliterated in scorching heat which saw wildfires cause havoc throughout southern Europe, Canda and Hawai‘i.

The WMO announced El Niño in July. Initial modelling suggested it would last until the end of 2023.

According to the WMO, it is set to peak in November–January, coinciding with the height of summer in the southern hemisphere but the latest climate models suggest there is a 90% chance that El Niño will continue until April 2024.

El Niño typically occurs every 2 to 7 years and lasts 9–12 months. It is a natural climate pattern associated with ocean warming in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Its impacts also include an overall drying and warming over Australia.

But climate experts warn that the impacts of natural climate patterns like El Niño are being exacerbated by human-induced climate change.

“El Niño impacts on global temperature typically play out in the year after its development, in this case in 2024,” says WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas. “But, as a result of record high land and sea-surface temperatures since June, the year 2023 is now on track to be the warmest year on record. Next year may be even warmer.

“This is clearly and unequivocally due to the contribution of the increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities.”

Factsheet diagram with pie chart from wmo about el nino la nina 2023/2024
Credit: WMO.

The intergovernmental body stressed the need for early warning systems to be in place to save lives and minimise other losses ahead of what is expected to be a period of intense weather events.

“Extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, wildfires, heavy rain and floods will be enhanced in some regions, with major impacts,” Taalas says.

2023 has already seen the hottest month on record.

The previous hottest year was 2016 – the result of an exceptionally strong El Niño coupled with the effects of climate change. Since May 2023, sea surface temperature anomalies have risen from about 0.5°C to 1.5°C above average in September.

Above normal temperatures are expected over coming months in the northern hemisphere in latitudes south of about 40°N and within the Arctic Circle. Most of the southern hemisphere is set to experience above normal temperatures.

The WMO statement also notes above average rainfall in parts of the northern hemisphere, and below average rainfall throughout northern South America, Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands.

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