Farm Progress

El Niño nears historic intensity

A persistent El Niño could bring more storms and colder weather to southern states from December through February along with milder conditions across northern states.

Bloomberg, Content provider

December 14, 2023

2 Min Read
Firefighters spraying fire
EXTREME WEATHER: Firefighters attempt to extinguish a wildfire on peatland and fields on Sept. 23 in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Bloomberg/Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

By Brian K. Sullivan

El Niño is threatening to become one of the most intense events of its type in history as the weather pattern approaches its peak strength in the coming weeks.

The phenomenon is driven by warming waters across the equatorial Pacific, and the odds of rising ocean temperatures have gone up — amplifying El Niño’s influence over global weather patterns. There’s now a 54% chance water temperatures will reach 3.6F above normal across the key region, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. Those odds were calculated at 35% just a month ago.

Such warming would make this El Niño “historically strong” and among the top five most intense ones since 1950, the center said. The agency forecasts a 75% chance that this event will persist as late as May before the Pacific starts returning to its neutral state.

El Niño plays havoc on weather around the world, fueling storms across the southern U.S. as well as drought and wildfires in Australia. It has been blamed for bad coffee harvests in Vietnam and cocoa woes in Africa. It’s already hurting soybean crops in the central part of Brazil.

The weather pattern has already put 2023 on track to be one of the hottest years on record, with the Arctic reaching record highs.

A persistent El Niño could bring more storms and colder weather to the U.S. South from December through February along with milder conditions across the northern states and parts of Canada. Still, forecaster Michelle L’Heureux said such circumstances aren’t guaranteed, as the relatively mild winter across the northern U.S. is also being reinforced by climate change and trends that tend to bring warm conditions.

Related:How El Niño will affect winter weather forecasts

“A strong event increases the likelihood of the impacts, but doesn’t ensure them,” L’Heureux said by telephone. 

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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