The El Niño currently forming in the Pacific Ocean could potentially be the strongest weather pattern of its kind since 1950, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicted Tuesday.
The current El Niño, a weather pattern marked by a shift in winds and increased water temperature in the Pacific Ocean, is already the strongest event since the 1997-98 El Niño, which caused billions of dollars in damages in California.
The National Weather Service’s North American Multi-Model Ensemble predicted in July that this year’s El Niño could be the strongest in recorded history.
“The last big El Niño was 1997-1998. The planet has changed a lot in 15 years,” David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Programme, said in a statement. “We have had years of record Arctic sea ice minimum. We have lost a massive area of northern hemisphere snow cover, probably by more than 1 million square kilometers in the past 15 years. We are working on a different planet and we fully do not understand the new patterns emerging.”
According to the WMO El Niño update, Pacific Ocean temperatures are expected to increase by 2° Celsius through the duration of the event; an increase of 1° Celsius is all that is needed to mark an El Niño.
“Compared to the last major El Niño event 1997-1998, there is much more information available,” WMO’s Maxx Dilley said in a statement. “We have better models and are much more prepared. It is a test case for the early warning systems and climate information systems of WMO Members and we are hoping that will be of assistance to some of the affected countries.”
A strong El Niño would result in heavy rainfall in California, where previous events have caused significant flash flooding and mudslides in coastal cities.
California could use the rain as it struggles through a fourth year of record drought; but experts have cautioned that even a “super El Niño” would likely not be enough to outright end the state’s water shortage.
For an earnest end to the drought, California is better off praying for the longer-term Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) weather pattern to develop in their favor; if it does, the state could see rain-soaked winters for the next decade.