According to National Geographic, the conditions are right for a very strong El Niño this year, which could result in extreme weather. The Pacific Ocean is warmer than it usually is at this time of year, indicating that El Niño is already intensifying and could be the strongest that scientists have on record.
In addition to the stronger storms, it is predicted that El Niño will last straight through the winter and continue into the spring of 2016. The last occurrence of a strong El Niño was in 1997-98. The problem is, because of a severe lack of documentation, predictions on just how bad it may get are hard to make.
Scientists say that the only thing they are sure of is that the potential effects are concerning. It could mean heavy rainfall and flooding in some regions, while setting off a drought in others. It could also mean huge hurricanes in the Pacific, and tornados throughout the winter in the Southeast.
The Pacific is already starting to see the extreme weather El Niño can cause. Since May, there have been eight tropical storms, three of which developed into hurricanes. Both North and South America have seen strong thunderstorms, and the weather system may finally bring some rain to California later in the year. However, there is concern of flooding, since the 1997-98 El Niño flooded Peru and Ecuador, resulting in numerous deaths.
Scientists say that there isn’t a clear cut answer on whether or not this developing El Niño is a result of human-induced climate change.
“That’s a big question,” says Neal Dorst, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Research Division. “We don’t have a long enough record of El Niños.”
Potential effects like rising sea levels and temperatures are possible, but the extent of those effects is unknown.
“It is stressful on animals and plants,” said Dorst. “It’s altering their ecological conditions, the warmth of the water and the amount of rain. But it’s short-lived. Things go back to normal conditions, and they recover.”
The upside to the early El Niño predictions is that it gives residents of different regions time to prepare. Not only can storms produced by El Niño be fatal, but they can also cause huge amounts of damage for homeowners and businesses. In fact, 65% of those surveyed said that they had to repair their roofs due to extreme weather. Early warnings of El Niño’s strength can give residents time to prepare not only their families, but their homes and other properties.