Expect Santa Claus to show up in Bermuda shorts this year, said a weatherman in a pre-Christmas update in Maine, the northeastern-most state in the US, which should have been quite cold then but wasn’t. In neighbouring Vermont, an all-time high December temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded.
The fingerprints of El Niño — a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific — were seen all over the world last year. It led to heat waves caused by delayed monsoon in India. Here, rainfall in August was 22.54% below normal, making it the driest month of the monsoon season.
It also triggered rare winter floods that have killed at least 28 people in Missouri and Illinois since last weekend, drops in Pacific island sea levels, droughts in South Africa and a record-breaking hurricane season in the eastern tropical Pacific.
Around the world, production of rice, wheat, coffee and other crops was hit by droughts and floods, leading to higher prices.
The latest satellite imagery released by Nasa suggests that over the next few months, the current El Niño conditions could even rival the intensity of 1997-98 — which saw deadly heat waves in Australia, devastating forest fires in Indonesia and flooding in Peru and California, killing 23,000 people worldwide.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center has dubbed the 2015-2016 system “one of the top three strongest El Niños since 1950”. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s assessment is also along those lines, and says this season’s “event is predicted to be one of the strongest in recent decades”.
The initial impact may have been felt already — forget about a White Christmas, cities from New York to Toronto celebrated the holidays with relatively mild weather.
Delhi, too, witnessed a warmer-than-usual December heading into cozy January days. But meteorologists are cautious about linking this to El Nino, which means ‘little boy’ in Spanish. “In terms of meteorology, Delhi is a small portion. A direct impact is not something we really see here. Also, a direct connection between a weak winter and El Nino has not been demonstrated so far,” said a senior Met official.
As of early 2016, El Niño’s impact on Britain and the rest of Europe was also not clear, though some evidence suggests it may have played a part in the extreme rainfall in north England and Scotland. Across Europe, 2015 was one of the warmest on record, but experts believe it is difficult to predict exactly how each El Nino event will unfold.
According to aid agencies, the weather cycle on record may increase the threat of hunger and disease for millions. Regions, including the Caribbean, Central and South America, will be hit in the next six months.
“There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance it will last till early spring 2016,” a Climate Prediction Centre bulletin released in September said.
Nepal, where earthquakes in April and May claimed over 9,000 lives, could also bear the brunt of the weather system. “It could result in less rainfall this monsoon and there could be drought-like conditions in some parts,” said Dr Rishi Ram Sharma, director general of Nepal’s hydrology and meteorology department. Nepal has already witnessed a rise in the El Niño index in the last two months of 2015 and if that pattern continues till June-July (when the monsoon starts), there would be deficit rainfall.
Inputs from New Delhi