The Pacific Ocean’s weather-changing El Nino will probably last into 2016 and be stronger than previously forecast, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center says.
El Nino, a warming of the equatorial Pacific, has a 90 percent chance of lasting into next year, up from 85 percent in June, and there is now an 80 percent chance it may persist into the Northern Hemisphere’s spring, according to the center in College Park, Maryland.
“The main features right now are the ocean temperatures are quite warm for this time of year,” Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist at the center, said by telephone Wednesday. “Right now, we have a pretty robust El Nino event going on.”
The warming in the Pacific, coupled with changes in the atmosphere, disrupts weather patterns worldwide. An El Nino can lower the number of Atlantic hurricanes while making winters wetter across the southern U.S. and milder in the North.
Globally, it can affect the Indian monsoon, bring drought and wildfires to Australia and change rainfall rates across South America. This year’s El Nino, the first since 2010, will probably bring warmer, drier weather to Southeast Asia.
Across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, sea- surface temperatures exceed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) above normal. Temperatures may reach 2.7 degrees higher or more in key areas of the ocean.
“At this time, the forecaster consensus is in favor of a significant El Nino,” the center said.
L’Heureux said predicting how strong El Nino becomes is difficult. Stronger El Ninos tend to have clearer impacts.
“It gives us more confidence in what may happen six months from now,” she said by telephone. “Strength is very much tied to confidence.”
While an event as strong as 1997-98, the most powerful on record, is possible, “we cannot predict that at this time,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the El Nino was likely to strengthen in coming weeks.
(With assistance from Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne.)
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