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Sea surface temperature anomalies during May 2018, compared to the 1981-2010 average. Credit: NOAA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued an El Niño watch, meaning that conditions are favorable for El Niño conditions to develop in the tropical Pacific Ocean within the next six months.

Why it matters: If an El Niño forms, it would follow one of the most intense such events on record, which teamed up with long-term climate change, to lead to the warmest year ever recorded: 2016. Depending on its exact location in the Pacific and its intensity, the climate phenomenon can reorder weather patterns around the world. On the plus side, it can contribute to increased upper atmospheric winds over the tropical Atlantic, weakening nascent hurricanes and keeping the number of storms lower than they otherwise would be.

Yes, but: Such events can cause droughts and even contribute to political instability as far away as Africa, while sparking deadly flooding in other areas, such as California.

El Niño events also help transport heat from the ocean into the atmosphere, and tend to lead to some of the globe's warmest years. The record warm years of 2015 and 2016 occurred during an intense El Niño event, for example.

NOAA currently forecasts a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the fall, with those odds rising to 65% during the winter. While sea surface temperatures are close to average right now, heat is building up under the surface — a sign that an El Niño may be on its way.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

Rahm Emanuel. Photo: Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Biden taps former Obama communications director for press secretary

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Jen Psaki, who previously served as Obama's communications director, will serve as President-elect Joe Biden's press secretary, the transition team announced Sunday.

The big picture: All of the top aides in Biden's communication staff will be women, per the Washington Post, which first reported Psaki's appointment.