Nov 9, 2023 - Energy & Environment

El Niño is getting stronger and that's already making Earth hotter

Data: NOAA; Graphic: Axios Visuals
Data: NOAA; Graphic: Axios Visuals

El Niño continues to strengthen in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which is likely to give global average temperatures a sizable boost going into next year.

Why it matters: El Niño, a natural climate cycle, affects weather patterns around the world, bringing drought to some countries and flooding to others.

Driving the news: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued an update this morning that finds El Niño is now in the "strong" category, and there is more than a 55% chance that it will remain this way through the January-through-March period.

  • Compared to last month, NOAA slightly increased the likelihood (to 35%) that this event will become historically strong for the November-through-January period.
  • NOAA also now expects the event to last through the Northern Hemisphere spring.

The big picture: El Niño can also lead to record warm years by giving a natural bump to human-caused warming, like a person jumping up while on a moving escalator.

  • The most recent strong El Niño in 2015-2016 led to a record warmest year, which is on track to be surpassed this year.
  • "El Niño is really going to start to bite next year," said Andrew Pershing, VP for science at Climate Central, during a media call on a climate change attribution study.
  • Pershing and other outside scientists noted that El Niño is only thought to be responsible for about 0.04°C (0.07°F) of the record warmth seen during the during the 12-month period from November 2022 through October 2023, but that this is likely to grow through 2024.

The ongoing event is already reshaping weather patterns in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, bringing drier-than-average conditions to Indonesia and Australia.

Go deeper