El Nino under way, raising fears of extreme weather patterns

US climate agency says phenomenon, which leads to warmer temperatures, is back after three years.

Fisherman Gabriel Barreto walks on the shore of the Magdalena river, the longest and most important river in Colombia, in the city of Honda, January 14, 2016. While flooding and intense rain wreak havoc on several countries in Latin America, El Nino brings other harmful effects to Colombia with severe drought. Picture taken January 14, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino/File Photo
El Nino develops from unusually warm waters in the Eastern Pacific near the coast of South America and causes warmer temperatures and extreme weather [File: John Vizcaino/Reuters]

The El Nino climate phenomenon has arrived and is likely to yield extreme weather later this year, including above average temperatures, scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have announced.

Unlike the La Nina climate pattern, which often lowers global temperatures slightly and was dominant the past three years, El Nino is associated with a rise in temperatures across the world.

“Depending on its strength, El Nino can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world,” NOAA climate scientist Michelle L’Heureux said on Thursday in a statement on NOAA’s website.

“Climate change can exacerbate or mitigate certain impacts related to El Nino. For example, El Nino could lead to new records for temperatures, particularly in areas that already experience above-average temperatures during El Nino,” L’Heureuz noted.

El Nino is born out of unusually warm waters in the Eastern Pacific near the coast of South America and is often accompanied by a slowing down or reversal of the easterly trade winds.

Australia this week warned that El Nino would deliver warmer, drier days to a country vulnerable to fierce bushfires while Japan said a developing El Nino was partly responsible for its warmest spring on record.

The phenomenon’s influence on the United States is weak during summer but more pronounced starting from late fall through spring, NOAA said in its statement.

By winter, there is an estimated 84 percent chance of a “greater than moderate” El Nino developing and a 56 percent chance of a strong El Nino.

This would typically cause wetter than average conditions in some parts of the country from Southern California to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico but drier than average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley.

It also raises chances for warmer than average temperatures in northern parts of the country.

According to a study published last month in the journal Science, this year’s El Nino could lead to global economic losses of $3 trillion as extreme weather decimates farm production, manufacturing and helps spread disease.

As a result, governments such as Peru have set aside $1.06bn to deal with El Nino’s impacts and climate change. The Philippines — at risk from cyclones — has formed a special government team to handle the predicted fallout.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies