El Niño 2023-24 peaks as one of the strongest on record, gradually weakening but continues to impact global climate

There is a 60% probability of El Niño persisting during March-May. File picture: Pexels

There is a 60% probability of El Niño persisting during March-May. File picture: Pexels

Published Mar 7, 2024


The 2023-24 El Niño event has reached its peak, standing among the five most potent occurrences in history.

According to a recent update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is a 60% probability of El Niño persisting during March-May and an 80% likelihood of neutral conditions (neither El Niño nor La Niña) from April to June.

It is noteworthy that there's a possibility of La Niña emerging later in the year, although current odds remain uncertain.

According to the update, while its intensity is gradually waning, its influence on the global climate is expected to persist in the coming months, exacerbating the heat trapped by greenhouse gases resulting from human activities.

Predictions indicate above-normal temperatures over nearly all land areas between March and May.

What is El Niño?

El Niño occurs roughly every two to seven years, typically lasts for nine to twelve months.

It is a natural climate phenomenon associated with the warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

This weather phenomena significantly influences weather and storm patterns worldwide, occurring within the broader context of a climate shaped by human-induced activities.

Secretary-General of the WMO, Celeste Saulo, highlighted: "Every month since June 2023 has set a new monthly temperature record, with 2023 being the warmest year on record. While El Niño has contributed to these record temperatures, heat-trapping greenhouse gases are unequivocally the primary culprit."

While El Niño's impact is evident in the equatorial Pacific's ocean surface temperatures, Saulo emphasised that other regions globally have experienced persistently and unusually high sea surface temperatures over the past ten months.

January 2024 saw the highest sea surface temperature for that month on record, raising concerns beyond the influence of El Niño alone.

El Niño typically exerts the greatest impact on global climate patterns in its second year of development, which is anticipated in 2024.

The ongoing albeit weaker El Niño, coupled with above-normal sea-surface temperatures across much of the global oceans, is expected to lead to elevated temperatures over almost all land areas in the next three months, influencing regional rainfall patterns.

Why is it important to know status of El Niño?

The current El Niño event, which began in June 2023, peaked between November and January, with sea surface temperatures approximately 2.0°C above the 1991-2020 average for the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean.

While ranking among the five strongest El Niño events, it remained weaker than the 1997/98 and 2015/2016 occurrences.

El Niño affects seasonal climate averages but can increase the likelihood of extreme weather and climate events in certain regions. The WMO emphasises the importance of early warnings, particularly during El Niño and La Niña events, to support decision-making, enhance preparedness, and facilitate anticipatory action.

El Niño's impacts include increased rainfall triggering flooding in the Horn of Africa and southern United States, alongside dry and warm conditions in Southeast Asia, Australia, and southern Africa. It has exacerbated drought in northern South America and contributed to dry and warm conditions in parts of southern Africa.

Secretary-General Saulo underscored the significant societal and economic impacts of El Niño events, emphasising the critical role of accurate seasonal forecasts in helping countries prepare and mitigate damage in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, water resources, and health.