New El Niño threatens world with weather woe

Forecasters say this one is brewing up to be the second-strongest on record

A A A

A new El Niño has begun. The sporadic Pacific Ocean warming, which can disrupt weather patterns across the world, is intensifying, say meteorologists.

So, over the next few months, there may be increased drought in Africa, India and Australia, heavier rainfall in South America and increased extremes in Britain, of warm and cold. It may make 2010 one of the hottest years on record.

The cyclical phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, is a major determinant of global weather systems. The 1997-98 El Niño combined with global warming to push 1998 into being the world's hottest year, and caused major droughts and catastrophic forest fires in South-east Asia which sent a pall of smoke right across the region.

At present, forecasters do not expect this El Niño to equal that of 1998, but it may be the second-strongest, and concerned groups, from international insurance companies to commodity traders, to aid agencies such as Oxfam, have begun to follow its progress anxiously. Its potential for economic and social impact is considerable.

Professor Chris Folland, of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, said: "We are likely to see more global warming than we have seen in the past few years, which have been rather cool. In fact, we are already seeing it."

El Niño is a periodic warming of the normally cold waters of the eastern tropical Pacific, the ocean region westwards out from South America along the line of the equator. Since the Pacific is a heat reservoir which drives wind patterns around the world, the change in its temperature alters global weather. An El Niño is defined by ocean surface temperatures rising by more than 0.5C above the average.

This El Niño is well beyond that, says the Climate Prediction Center of the US National Weather Service. "Sea surface temperatures remain +0.5 to +1.5 above average across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean," the centre reported last week. "Observations and dynamical model forecasts indicate El Niño conditions will continue to intensify and are expected to last through the northern hemisphere winter of 2009-10."

The last El Niño was in 2006-07 and, at its peak, sea surface temperatures averaged about 0.9 degrees above normal. But this is a stage which has already been reached by this one.

The last El Niño, comparatively weak though it was, is thought to have been partly responsible for the extraordinarily warm weather in Britain between the summer of 2006 and the spring of 2007: July 2006 was Britain's hottest month, autumn 2006 (September, October and November) was the warmest autumn, winter 2006-07 (December, January and February) was the second warmest in Britain, and April 2007 was our warmest April.

People have forgotten this because there then began our recent cooler and wetter period, with Britain's two "washout summers" of 2007 and 2008, and they may, in turn, have been associated with the counter-phenomenon of La Niña, a cooling of the eastern tropical Pacific waters, which followed. The start of the present El Niño was one reason the Met Office predicted a "barbecue summer" for 2009.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn