Global average temperature is plummeting as the naturally-occurring El Niño warming event gives way to what’s likely to be a La Niña cooling event later this year.
“Cooling from the weakening El Niño is now rapidly occurring as we transition toward likely La Niña conditions by mid-summer or early fall,” according to the latest satellite data from the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
Global temperature spiked in early 2016 thanks to an incredibly strong El Niño. It drove the average global temperature up to 0.83 degrees above the 30-year average in February — the warmest month ever recorded in the satellite record.
Temperatures have come down 0.28 degrees since February, and Columbia University’s Earth Institute recently said there’s a more than 70 percent chance of a La Niña forming this year. Government forecasters say such an event would likely occur by late-summer or early fall.
The current El Niño formed late in 2015 and sent temperatures skyward, causing torrential rain in Texas and unseasonably warm weather New Yorkers saw on Christmas Day. The warm streak persisted into this year, and it created tons of media attention as climate scientists freaked out about the record heat.
“We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told The Sydney Morning Herald in February. “This is really quite stunning” and “it’s completely unprecedented.”
El Niño is a naturally occurring warming phase across the span of the Pacific Ocean along the equator. It occurs fairly regularly, about every two to seven years, and is often followed by a La Niña cooling phase.
While some scientists were freaking out, others noted El Niño can cause huge temperature spikes, and that a strong La Niña could follow, meaning global temperatures could be driven downward — resuming the so-called “pause” in global warming.
It’s unclear exactly how far temperatures will fall, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is keeping an eye on the rapid cooling.
“Most models predict the end of El Niño and a brief period of ENSO-neutral by early Northern Hemisphere summer,” according to the agency. “The model consensus then calls for increasingly negative SST anomalies… as the summer and fall progress. However, there is clear uncertainty over the timing and intensity of a potential La Niña.”
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