The United Nations (UN) has urged the global community to brace themselves for the consequences of the approaching El Nino phenomenon, stating that this weather pattern, which leads to higher temperatures worldwide, is expected to persist throughout 2023.
El Nino is a naturally occurring climate cycle that is typically associated with elevated temperatures across the globe, as well as drought in certain regions and heavy rainfall in others.
On average, El Nino occurs every two to seven years, with episodes generally lasting between nine to 12 months.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the UN, has confirmed the presence of El Nino and has issued a warning that there is a 90 percent likelihood of its continuation during the second half of 2023.
Petteri Taalas, the Secretary-General of the WMO, emphasized the gravity of the situation, stating, “The onset of El Nino will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean.”
Taalas further urged governments worldwide to take immediate action to mitigate the impacts on health, ecosystems, and economies, stating, “Early warnings and anticipatory action of extreme weather events associated with this major climate phenomenon are vital to save lives and livelihoods.”
On June 8, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which contributes to the WMO’s analysis, confirmed the arrival of El Nino and stated that it is expected to be at least moderately intense.
The WMO noted that the warming effect of El Nino on global temperatures is usually most prominent within a year of its onset, which would be in 2024 in this case.
The El Nino phenomenon is characterized by significant warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. It alternates with its cooling counterpart, La Nina, with neutral conditions occurring in between.
El Nino events typically bring increased rainfall to parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa, and central Asia. They can also cause severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia, southern Asia, Central America, and northern South America.
According to the WMO, the last El Nino occurred in 2015-2016. From 2020 to early 2023, the world experienced an unusually prolonged La Nina, lasting three consecutive years. This triple-dip La Nina was the first of its kind in the 21st century and the third since 1950.
Wilfran Moufouma Okia, the WMO’s head of regional climate prediction services, stated that over the next six months, there is a 10 percent chance of El Nino weakening, effectively ruling out the development of La Nina this year.
Okia emphasized that the effects of El Nino are usually perceived with a time delay, implying that global temperatures are expected to rise further.
In May, the WMO predicted a 98 percent likelihood that at least one of the next five years, as well as the entire five-year period, will be the warmest on record.
The current record for the hottest year is 2016, which experienced an exceptionally strong El Nino combined with human-induced heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Health Organization (WHO), a UN agency, stated that it is assisting countries in preparing for the impact of El Nino by pre-positioning essential supplies.
Maria Neira, the WHO’s Director of Environment, Climate Change, and Health, expressed concern about the likely increase in cholera, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, and infectious diseases like measles and meningitis in countries most affected by El Nino.