Extreme weather events: what does 2023 have in store for us as El Niño returns?

Los Laureles reservoir that provides drinking water in Tegucigalpa (Honduras), August 17, 2019. The low level of the reservoir is due to the El Niño phenomenon.

Los Laureles reservoir that provides drinking water in Tegucigalpa (Honduras), August 17, 2019. The low level of the reservoir is due to the El Niño phenomenon.

©ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP

Weather forecast

The climate effects of El Niño and La Niña are known in the Americas and parts of Asia.

Atlantic: The year 2022 will be one of the hottest on record on Earth. But the recurring climate pattern in the tropical Pacific – known as ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) – is in its cold phase. What exactly are we talking about?

Guillaume Sechet: El Niño is a current that brings warm water to the western side of the South American continent, which then spreads into the central Pacific. La Niña brings out cold water. In this case, this colder water automatically causes drier weather and therefore less precipitation, generating large anomalies. This phenomenon is not new and is known in the region. Global warming is disrupting these phenomena, longer and stronger than in the past.

What is the relationship between this climatic phenomenon and global temperature?

These currents – cold or warm – have a very strong effect on the climate of the region. However, the further one moves away from the regions concerned, the fewer the anomalies that can be measured. The climates in North America and South America are strongly influenced by these currents, as is the South Pacific Ocean. Europe is also concerned, but the disturbances are still poorly understood.

This year, the La Niña phenomenon was very strong. Since temperatures are particularly high in Europe, one might be tempted to make a connection. However, the connection is not so obvious.

With La Niña warming, what could be the consequences for the planet?

In fact, high sea temperatures are starting to warm up and above normal in some areas. The anomalies seem stronger than in previous years, and La Niña will soon give way to El Niño, creating instability and rain in this Pacific region.

El Niño lowers sea temperatures in Australia and Indonesia and creates dry weather. Of course, lower rainfall patterns can have heavy impacts on agriculture.

Can we really fear temperatures over 50 degrees in Europe, as some experts believe?

Although the climatic consequences of El Niño and La Niña are known in the Americas and some regions of Asia, no studies have yet shown a significant impact in Europe. It is quite possible that the temperature exceeded 50 degrees in the old continent, but scientifically speaking, it is impossible to be certain and declare that these extreme temperatures are related to the climatic pattern of the Pacific.

As I explain on my site, there is no doubt that the year 2022 will be atypical in France, with remarkably high temperatures and successive anticyclonic periods resulting in an alarming lack of rain. A wet anomaly, marked by frequent thunderstorms, affected the onset of the warm season. This coincides with the weakening of La Niña, then approaching a neutral phase. One might be tempted to make a connection between La Niña and warmer and drier weather than usual in France in the years 2021 and 2022. However, this becomes less true when looking at the year 2020. So’ t is difficult to establish a link.

Could this warming also cause extreme climatic phenomena in 2023?

La Niña was particularly marked this year, undeniably having an impact on planetary disruption. As Europeans, we are relatively protected but ironically, the cold temperature anomaly in the Pacific side has generated a warm anomaly in the rest of the ocean. Therefore, I do not see how this warm anomaly in the Pacific can also warm Europe and all the oceans of the planet. The same is true for natural disasters. The links are not obvious and Europe seems to be protected again.

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