National Geographic News
A debris flow damages a home after heavy rains caused mudslides February 6, 2010 in La Canada Flintridge, California.

A debris flow damages a home after heavy rains caused mudslides in La Cañada Flintridge, California, in 2010.

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MCNEW, GETTY IMAGES  

Rachel Hartigan Shea

National Geographic

Published April 12, 2014

The odds are in El Niño's favor. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasts a greater than 50 percent chance that the climate-disrupting phenomenon could be upon us as early as this summer, with a two-in-three chance we'll be welcoming it by winter. Fingers are crossed in drought-ridden California, where a strong El Niño could increase rain and snowfall.

The last El Niño occurred in 2009-2010 and brought drought to Australia and rains to California. The weather pattern generally occurs in cycles of two to seven years and is the warm extreme of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the fluctuation in tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures. The cold phase of the oscillation is called La Niña. (Since El Niño tends to be especially strong close to Christmas, South American fishermen named the weather pattern after the Christ child.)

El Niño is born when warm water around Indonesia shifts to the eastern Pacific. Currently, the subsurface temperatures in the eastern Pacific are 5 to 6 degrees Celsius above average. "The warm water causes deep convection [thunderstorms]," says Michelle L'Heureux, a climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center, "which releases a ton of energy and can have a huge domino effect."

El Nino graphic.
MAGGIE SMITH, NG STAFF. SOURCE: NOAA CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER

The effects are felt around the globe. The southern United States often experiences more rain than usual, while Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines receive far less. Winters tend to be warmer over the northern part of the United States, and the Atlantic experiences fewer hurricanes. Floods, drought, and disease all tend to follow in El Niño's wake. (Related: "El Niño/La Niña: Nature's Vicious Cycle.")

El Niño is a wild card: Even though it can be forecast months in advance, what it means for local weather can be hard to predict. Throw in climate change and things get wilder still. Some research indicates that the climate pattern could become more frequent and more intense as the ocean heats up, but this is still up for debate. El Niño also may exacerbate the ongoing effects of climate change. "If climate change is causing an area to get wetter," says L'Heureux, "El Niño can intensify that."

Some meteorologists are speculating that, given the high subsurface temperatures, this El Niño could match the one in 1997-98, which killed an estimated 23,000 people and caused more than $33 billion in damages.

However, it's too early to predict the strength of this year's El Niño, says L'Heureux. Spring forecasts tend to be the least reliable: They can home in on the likelihood that El Niño will occur, but not on how intense it will be. "This is actually a fairly bullish forecast considering that we're still in spring," she says.

31 comments
feroj khan
feroj khan

Quite unpredictable phenomenon in my life ever.World population has increased to a level we can not tolerate such phenomenon. Scientists must do some related research to prevent it or minimize the losses as GM crops are resistible to pest and drought phenomenon. Hope all is best.

bernars curtin
bernars curtin

Predicting climate change is an amplification of predicting weather, a fools errand.  Articulating its genesis is the work of modern charlatans. 

No other scientific hypothesis is supported exclusively by computer predictions.  Our scientific community should be better than this.

Marina Islam
Marina Islam

We live in Bangladesh. In our boyhood we observed six seasons(summer , rainy, Autumn, late Autumn, winter, & spring ) in our country about 20 years back. Those days of six seasons was wonderful and very much distinctive. Now a days we only observe summer, rainy & winter seasons. I think we have already lost 3 wonderful seasons. I myself strongly belief it is the consequence and adverse effect of Global warming. We are a small developing country in the world.The carbon emission by us compared to other nations is very small. We are appealing to all not to warm this Earth by our luxury life style  and booming development for modern life. If we don't take necessary measures to reduce global warming activities we will proceed to great disasters like Himalaya avalanche and seasons loss like Bangladesh. Your El Nino phenomena is also controlling the climate change. Our concern about global warming also demands thought for climate change causes. 

Gloria Mitchell
Gloria Mitchell

living in the southwest we love the el nino,  usually means we get more rain, and since it is factual that global warming is REAL,  and has played a role in most all of the extreem

storms hopefully ours will just be needed rain.

Phil Blank
Phil Blank

And forget that global warming and climate change nonsense. 

The earth has shifted on its axis, as it has in the past, slowly going through polar shift.

And that is why its gettig warmer in some places and colder in others.

Phil Blank
Phil Blank

50% either it moves to the north of the US or 50% chance it moves across the lower US.

They don't know yet and haven't known since almost 2 months ago on the NOAA web site.


So, why are all the news media sites jumping on this when no onw knows for sure just where it will go?

Ann Holmes
Ann Holmes

let face it it is coming back and bringing a change with the pollution factors

AdvBlr Blr
AdvBlr Blr

My comments in (brackets).   Beware Truth may hurt you.

The odds are in El Niño's favor. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasts a greater than 50 percent chance that the climate-disrupting phenomenon could be upon us as early as this summer .: 

( Weather Scientists (including myself) are more like Economists; they will tell the collapse after 6 months or 1 year later.)

The last El Niño occurred in 2009-2010 and brought drought to Australia and rains to California

( It depends on the definition ; according to me last ENSO was in 2012; according to CPC it was 2009)

The effects are felt around the globe. The southern United States often experiences more rain than usual, while Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines receive far less. 

(The failure of rains seems to early in India and China and later to other areas).

El Niño is a wild card.

(True; but Scientists must predict it better than Economists )

Gopinathan Krishnan is an Indian Scientist.

.

William Cody
William Cody

We had a long cold winter, so some how this "Climate Change" may make El Nino worse? So convoluted.

Adhavan Balsami
Adhavan Balsami

El nino makes South Asia the most vulnerable one. It affects their Southwest monsoon pattern, which gives 80% of rainfall to that region, creating drought during their main agricultural season. These are the region where most of world's malnourished poor people, stunted childrens grew. Elnino is a huge challenge for global south.

Bistecca Mammuth
Bistecca Mammuth

Sarà un disastro ecologico e ambientale immenso. Come non ricordare, e nell'articolo di NatGeo non è citato che el nino del 1996-97 portò la devastazione di tutte le barriere coralline dell'Oceano Indiano con la morte dei coralli visibile anche oggi. Un disastro che può cambiare il volto (e l'ecologia) degli oceani. Non solo quindi disastri per l'uomo, nel 1997 si ebbero 23.000 vittime e 33 miliardi di dollari di danni... 

Ma che pianeta e società globale abbiamo fatto ? e intanto continuiamo imperterriti, specialmente in Italia, gente comune e politici, a non pensarci, a vendere automobili e consumare combustibili fossili e a crescere nel mondo a livelli insostenibili per il pianeta - 7 miliardi di esseri umani che consumano in un anno 2 Terre -. E continuiamo imperterriti e ciechi a crescere. :(

Siamo proprio una specie stupida che fa correre verso il disastro e l'estinzione della vita nel pianeta la generazione di nostri figli ATTUALI. Non tra centinaia di anni. 

Boh, la solita triste e pessima storie delle Cassandre ecologiche che hanno predetto il vero (da almeno 30 anni) e sono state SEMPRE inascoltate vinte dal sistema dell'economia e del falso benessere. Che stupidi. Ma ormai la guerra persa e solo si salva qualche battaglia di retroguardia. 

Provare a pensarci? boh, forse è davvero troppo tardi. L'economia, il mercato e i politici beceri e blateranti (ma noi li eleggiamo) non ce lo permetteranno. :( . by Massimo Pandolfi, anche WWF, in Bistecca Mammuth

Peter Vogl
Peter Vogl

Here in northern Texas we are on the verge of stage 5 drought, haven't had a decent rain in 3 years now, sure hope El Nino pushes water our way.

Zen Galacticore
Zen Galacticore

@bernars curtin As far as the weather goes, it's not just computer models that meteorologists employ, but, more importantly, you know, all those satellites we have in orbit. Remember?

C Pietro
C Pietro

@bernars curtin you need to adjust your tin foil hat.  Weather predictions are extremely accurate, down to the minute in cases of severe storms. Plus computer projections 2 weeks out are very close.

Jake Cline
Jake Cline

@Phil Blank Any verifiable, citable proof that the Earth has shifted on its axis?  How many degrees has it shifted?  Over what length of time does this usually happen?  Your willful ignorance is going to make my peers and I's future on this planet very difficult indeed, so if you're going to spout pseudo-science you had better be able to back it up.

Anne-marie Simmons
Anne-marie Simmons

@Phil Blank It's great to hear someone mention this; I heard it year or so ago(possibly let slip?) and it's never been mentioned since!

If it was known that there is nothing that can stop the natural progression   in the planet's movement and  its effects; they wouldn't be able to justify keep hiking the "green" taxes!

D. Fontaine
D. Fontaine

@Phil Blank  


Because media hype equals consumer panic which prompts spending and profit.  

Laurie Carlson
Laurie Carlson

@Phil Blank  Because there is nothing else to report and they have a 50% chance of getting it right! LOLOLOL!!!

Lord B.
Lord B.

@Phil Blank I thought the same thing; 50% still means nothing but half a chance; just a big MAYBE!!

Phil Blank
Phil Blank

@William Cody  HAD?

We still have winter!

It was close to 80 in Cleveland yesterday and today its 31 and it snowed!

The summer is over!

This will be the repeat of 1816, the year wothout summer!

Sandy Donnelly
Sandy Donnelly

@William Cody

Yes it is confusing.  Some places get warmer while others get colder as the globe warms because the thermohaline circulation (Gulf Stream for example) will not carry heat to northern latitudes as it weakens.  The most rapid global warming is happening in the Arctic.  Sea ice and glaciers are melting at alarming rates diluting the saltiness of the seawater changing the circulation patterns.  The Gulf Stream grows weaker Great Britain becomes colder.  Scotland received so much snow this year that livestock was buried alive. Seems contrary but it isn't.

Water expands as it heats.  The sea temperatures have risen faster in the last 50 years than  in the previous 50.  The elevation of the oceans rise as a result.   Anything that warms the ocean faster will make the level rise more acute.  Warmer oceans provide more energy to fuel hurricanes and cyclones. Normal weather events like thunderstorms become more energetic too.  It is all connected but not in linear fashion.

I hope this helps.

David Coulston
David Coulston

@Gerard Van der Leun  There's nothing that's not factual in this article. Please explain what your issue with it is? And why a personal attack on the author?

John Herrmann
John Herrmann

@Gerard Van der Leun You will always be behind. Investors (and no group is tighter with a buck) pay real cash for these predictions. Climate influences so much that makes money for the rest of us. Stay blind to the workings of the world. The rest of us benefit from the ignorant.

bernars curtin
bernars curtin

@Sandy Donnelly @William Cody - you couldn't be more wrong.  Ocean temps have not risen in the past 50 years so the rest of your argument is moot.  Daily tides alter sea level more than AGW can in the next 1,000 years.  Read IPCC reports #5, the goto global warming cheerleaders and their most dire prediction is for a 2 inch rise in sea level by 2114 if we exercise no controls on carbon emissions. 

The odds of dying by motor vehicle are 1,550,000 times greater than dying by a climate event.  Can we have a little perspective please.

Doug Hornby
Doug Hornby

@Sandy Donnelly @William Cody Where are the actual temperature measurements? Not the dreamy simulations, real hard evidence. While you are at it, how much ice do you think was in the Arctic say from 900 ad to 1200 ad? There was farming and ranching in Greenland. Tough to try that now.

bernars curtin
bernars curtin

@Doug Hornby @Sandy Donnelly@William Cody

there is no evidence AGW is predicated completely on projections.  Look back at the projections from Al Gore's "an Inconvenient Truth'  and you will see the fallacy.  There was a court ruling in England that prevents "An Inconvenient Truth" from being shown in public schools due to the lack of scientific evidence and the proliferation of errors.  The court ruled it a partisan political advertisement disguised as a documentary with little to no educational value.

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