El Nino's return likely to unleash hottest year ever, 1.5 °C warming by 2026
After enduring the eight warmest years on record from 2015 to 2022, the Earth is staring down a scorcher that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicts has a 93 percent chance of taking the “hottest year ever” title from 2016 — in the next three years.
For eight consecutive years, the average global temperatures soared at least 1° C above pre-industrial levels. While indisputably far from a breeze, the period since September 2020 actually coincided with the 21st century’s first “triple-dip” La Nina event — a persistent and ongoing climate pattern with cooler-than-average ocean surface temperatures.
WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, said: "La Niña’s cooling effect put a temporary brake on rising global temperatures, even though the past eight year period was the warmest on record," adding that the phenomenon that intensified droughts and flooding is finally ending.
The return of El Nino
With La Nina — which means “the little girl” in Spanish — receding, its dreaded warmer counterpart El Niño (literally “little boy”) is set to unleash hell on the planet sometime during late 2023.
Together called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), these recurring phenomena can be best understood through temperature anomalies across the tropical Pacific along with disruptions in rainfall and wind patterns.
Its warm phase, El Nino, is characterised by weakening trade winds that may sometimes even reverse. Either way, pressure fluctuations cause the normal (east-to-west) direction of warm ocean water to change — pushing it eastwards.
There have been around 25 documented El Nino events since 1897, NOAA data suggests, with the last major event occurring in 2016.
“If we do now enter an El Niño phase, this is likely to fuel another spike in global temperatures,” the WMO said in an ENSO update, reiterating another alarming prediction by the UK's Met Office.
"There is a 93 percent likelihood of at least one year until 2026 being the warmest on record and a 50:50 chance of the global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era."
India is already forecast to experience extreme weather conditions like heatwaves this summer, with a 90% chance of La Nina fading into an ENSO-neutral phase over the next few months.
El Nino, which has historically been associated with failed monsoon in the subcontinent, will set in around the boreal autumn or winter and its effects will most likely be observed in 2024.