According to a report published by New Scientist, this year’s global El Niño event is now the biggest ever recorded. While the most widely known effects are still on the way – from massive rainfall to record swells and storms – the report says that the havoc El Niño is unleashing across the globe is blowing away the ’97-’98 event. Globally, that El Niño took more than 20,000 lives and caused almost $100 billion in damage from floods, droughts, fires, and more.
Right now, one key ingredient that predicts an El Niño’s intensity that has outgrown that of the previous century’s El Niño is surface water temperature. On November 26, 1997, water temperatures in the Central Pacific Ocean were 2.8 degrees (Celsius) above average. The same region reached that above average temperature by November 4th of this year, and two weeks later was measured a full 3.1 degrees C higher than average – the warmest ever. According to Axel Timmerman at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, surface temperatures here have the largest impact on global atmospheric circulation, predicting that this El Niño will only grow in intensity, most likely becoming one that’s greater than anything we’ve ever seen.
So far, the world has seen everything from extreme heat waves caused by a delayed monsoon in India to extreme drops in water levels over coral reefs in the Pacific and more. In California, where record rainfall is expected to put a dent in the state’s years long drought, extreme El Niño type weather, like major storms, haven’t picked up quite yet but are expected to after the New Year begins. “The El Niño community is closely watching the evolution [of this El Niño] and whether the current event will surpass the 1997-8 event,” Timmerman told New Scientist. “Monthly and weekly central Pacific temperature anomalies clearly show that this current event has surpassed it.”