El Niño passed peak, but UN weather agency warns ‘not to lower guard’ as impacts continue

Semi-pastoralists have been hard-hit by drought and cattle are dying as the El Niño weather phenomenon has forced families to be on the move from Haro Huba kabele in central Ethiopia in search of grazing land and water. Photo: UNICEF/Mulugeta Ayene

18 February 2016 – The 2015-2016 El Niño, one of the strongest on record, has passed its peak, but its humanitarian and economic impacts will continue for many months to come, the United Nations weather agency has announced, adding that lessons learned from this climate phenomenon would help build global resilience to weather related hazards.

The El Niño is expected to weaken in the coming months and fade away during the second quarter of 2016, according to the latest update from the World Meteorological Organization.

“In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline, but we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.

“We have just witnessed one of the most powerful ever El Niño events which caused extreme weather in countries on all continents and helped fuel record global heat in 2015,” Mr. Taalas said, highlighting the droughts and excess rainfall it has caused in different parts of the world.

Parts of South America and East Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, Central America and a number of other regions, he said.

Eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures were more than 2 degrees Celsius above average in late 2015, providing evidence that the 2015-16 El Niño was comparable with the devastating 1997-98 and 1982-83 events. However, “it is too early to establish conclusively whether it was the strongest,” he said.

The world is better prepared for this event than ever before, and scientific research conducted during this event will enhance understanding of El Niño and the inter-linkages between this phenomenon and human-induced climate change, he said.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is the result of the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. It has an irregular recurrence period of between two and seven years. Typically, El Niño peaks late in the calendar year, hence its name (Spanish for Christ Child).


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