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Stronger El Niños

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The El Niño weather phenomenon that peaked in December was one of the five strongest ever recorded, the United Nations said last week, as it predicted above-normal temperatures from now until May.

Though El Niño is gradually weakening, its impact will continue over the coming months by fueling the heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases, the World Meteorological Organization said.

Therefore, “above normal temperatures are predicted over almost all land areas between March and May,” the WMO said in a quarterly update.

El Niño, the large-scale warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, typically has the greatest impact on the global climate in the year after it develops, in this instance 2024.

It is a naturally occurring climate pattern typically associated with increased heat worldwide, as well as drought in some parts of the world and heavy rains elsewhere.

WMO chief Celeste Saulo said the record temperatures recorded over recent months were exacerbated by the El Niño effect, but it needs to be seen in the context of a climate being changed by human activities that has produced concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

The current El Niño developed in June 2023 and was at its strongest between November and January, hitting a peak of around 2.0 degrees Celsius above the 1991 to 2020 average sea surface temperatures for the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean. The last El Niño was in 2015-16.

The WMO has urged drastic greenhouse gas emissions cuts to combat climate change.

The combination of the natural phenomenon of El Niño and human-caused climate change, which is currently being felt most in the Philippines, particularly Southern Negros Occidental, where the drought has resulted in millions of pesos worth of crops being lost, should serve as a stark and sobering reminder of the need to do all we can to mitigate its effects, because if we cannot, then we will have to prepare for even more intense heat in the coming years and the next El Niño, which is sure to make a comeback within the decade.*

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