In the coming months, a huge body of warm water will slowly move across the Pacific Ocean towards South America.
And as it does so, it is going to trigger a weather event that is going to bring about dramatic changes in weather patterns around the world.
Scientists point out that there is a 90% chance that the El Niño phenomenon will extend until the end of the year and the first months of 2024.
And he also points out that it will be a very strong one.
If the scientists’ prediction comes true, the impact could be significant.
The same researchers had already pointed out that with the increase in carbon dioxide emissions and a very intense El Niño, there is a 66% chance that the planet will break the temperature increase limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius in at least one year. from now until 2027.
Plus, that also means other effects of extreme weather like torrential rains and flooding during winter.
“We are projecting a greater than 90% probability that there will be El Niño effects during the winter,” David DeWitt, director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Climate Prediction, tells the BBC.
“There is an 80% chance that we will have the El Niño phenomenon in July.”
The effects of it could also reverberate for a long time.
A study by Dartmouth College points out that the El Niño phenomenon that is about to start could have a global cost of about US$3.4 trillion in the next five years.
For example, when reviewing the history of an economy like the US when similar events occurred in 1982 and 1998, the economy declined 3% the following decade from what it would have been without the event.
For this reason, the researchers point out that an event of a similar magnitude in these years could cost the US economy some US$699 billion.
It is worth noting that countries with a coast on the Pacific Ocean such as Peru and Indonesia suffered a 10% drop in economic production during the following years after the events of 1982 and 1998.
For this reason, the researchers note that global losses could exceed US$84 trillion in this century if global warming increases the frequency, but above all, the intensity of the El Niño phenomenon.
“El Niño is not simply a strong shock from which an economy immediately recovers. Our study shows that economic productivity after El Niño is compressed for much longer than just the year after the event,” explains Justin Mankin, co-author. of the study and assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College.
“When we talk about El Niño in the United States, for example, it means that the kinds of impacts and damages that we will see from landslides and floods are not covered by the insurance that households and businesses use,” Mankin says.
And he adds: “In California, 98% of homeowners do not have flood insurance,” he says.
Other impacts on the economy of the countries will be the damage to the infrastructure due to the heavy flooding, which can cause an irruption in the food supply chain.
To this is added enormous losses in crops due to floods or droughts.
But in North American countries, should people be worried about a very miserable winter this year due to El Niño?
Not necessarily. Although El Niño can bring periods of extreme weather to North America, it doesn’t always.
According to DeWitt, during El Niño, the air currents that usually push warm waters toward the Pacific Ocean weaken on the western side, allowing these warm waters to move eastward and spread over a larger area in the ocean than usual.
This leads to much wetter air over a warm ocean that disrupts air circulation in the atmosphere around the world.
In North America this means winters that are much drier and warmer than normal in Canada and the northern states of the US, while the south can have a wetter winter.
El Niño also reduces the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, but can lead to more hurricanes on the Pacific coast.
But these effects depend entirely on the intensity of the El Niño that produces them.
DeWitt warns that states in the southern US are most likely to experience devastating effects, including heavy rain and potential flooding.
This is because they have been subjected to the effects of the drought left behind by another phenomenon, La Niña, for three consecutive years.
“Often what happens during El Niño is that when the rain comes, it happens very quickly. This can cause landslides in areas affected by drought or forest fires, which can also be devastating,” he said.
According to the scientist, dry soil loses its ability to retain water, which can lead to landslides.
The strong El Niño intensity that affected the California area in 1998 and 2016 led to devastating floods and landslides.
The same phenomena produced huge snowstorms in the state of New England (in the northern US) and tornadoes that caused several deaths in Florida.
But the changes in weather patterns that El Niño brings have other problems as well.
Infectious diseases become more prevalent in areas where conditions favor the occurrence of insects and other pest-spreading animals.
A study done on the effects of El Niño in 2015 and 2016 found that disease outbreaks became between 2.5% and 28% more frequent.
And the increase was recorded in even more cases of hantavirus, which is produced mainly by rodents.
During El Niño, a lot of heat and moisture travels from the tropics to the poles.
“When humidity increases at higher latitudes, it traps more thermal infrared radiation which leads to warming. This is what we call the greenhouse effect,” says DeWitt.
Even a temporary breach of the 1.5°C threshold due to rising emissions and this year’s El Niño, as predicted by the World Meteorological Organization, could cause widespread suffering for all.
According to a recent study from the University of Exeter in the UK, limiting long-term global warming to 1.5°C could save billions of people from dangerous heat exposure (i.e. an average temperature of 29 °C or more).
Current policies are projected to generate global warming of 2.7°C by the end of the century, which could leave two billion people exposed to dangerous levels of heat around the world, the authors note.
“Limiting warming to 1.5°C would mean five times fewer people living in dangerous heat and would help prevent climate-related migration and detrimental health outcomes, including pregnancy loss and impaired brain function.” says Tim Lenton, co-author of the study and director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.
There is concern that as carbon emissions continue to rise, future El Niño events could push global temperatures above the 1.5°C threshold with increasing frequency.
“Every 0.1C really matters,” says Lenton. “Every 0.1°C of warming that we can avoid, according to our calculations, is saving 140 million people from exposure to unprecedented heat and the damage that comes with it.”
“We would be saving hundreds of millions of people from harm and that should be a great incentive to work harder to get to zero emissions.”
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