‘Unimaginable heat’: Will this year’s El Nino cause a global warming surge?

Long focal shot of an isolated tree lost in a wide field of dry grass. Puy de Dôme volcano is rising above the horizon line. Auvergne France.
Could the weather cycle lead to droughts and heatwaves? (Getty)

Campaigners have warned that this year’s El Niño ocean cycle could bring ‘unimaginable heat’ after three years of the world-cooling La Niña effect.

Forecasters have predicted that the El Niño weather cycle will return later this year - and campaigners and observers have warned that it could push the world past crucial climate change barriers.

Others suggest the first signs of the warming El Niño effect - which sees the Pacific Ocean warm by up to 3C, but has knock on effects around the world - are already here.

The past three years have seen the opposite La Niña effect (part of the same ocean cycle) which has helped to damp down temperatures - although 2022 was still the fifth-warmest year on record, according to NASA.

Speaking to Yahoo.co.uk, Sarah Dillingham, Senior Meteorologist for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), said, “A rare cooling of the Pacific Ocean over the last three years showcased a “triple-dip” of La Niña, which was partly responsible for record rainfall and snowfall in California this past year, as well as the severe weather that plagued much of the Southeast.

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“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an end to La Niña in early March and added that current conditions are “neutral,” meaning neither La Niña nor El Niño is in effect.

“Yet, the warming sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean have scientists watching to see if this warming will continue and lead to El Niño conditions.

“El Niño typically brings more moisture into the western United States and drier than average conditions to the Midwest. It could also result in enhanced thunderstorm and severe activity across the Southwest and into the Florida peninsula.”

El Niño events are getting stronger, warns Professor Adam Scaife from the Met Office.

He said, “We know that under climate change, the impacts of El Nino events are going to get stronger, and you have to add that to the effects of climate change itself, which is growing all the time.

“You put those two things together, and we are likely to see unprecedented heatwaves during the next El Nino.”

Several experts have warned that the coming El Niño could see the crucial 1.5C temperature barrier (compared to pre-industrial levels) breached as global temperatures soar.

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The three La Niña events have ‘masked’ the true effects of global warming, experts have warned.

Temperatures around the world increase by about 0.2C during El Niño, and fall about 0.2C during La Niña.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said, "It is exceptional to have three consecutive years with a La Niña event. Its cooling influence is temporarily slowing the rise in global temperatures – but it will not halt or reverse the long-term warming trend,"

The IPCC has warned that if the world breaches the 1.5C barrier, it could lead to increased heat waves, longer hot seasons and shorter cold seasons - with increased extreme weather the higher the temperature goes.

La Niña often has the opposite impact on weather and global climate as the better-known El Niño, which is the warm phase of the so-called El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

El Niño events see the Pacific Ocean up to 3C warmer than normal, and during La Niña – the other part of the cycle – the ocean is up to 3C colder.

There's also a neutral phase, which the world is entering now, according to the Climate Prediction Service (CPC), run by the US National Weather Service.

The CPC has suggested that El Niño will develop either during the summer or shortly afterwards.

It said in a release earlier this month: "La Niña has ended and ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring and early summer."

Watch: Triple-dip La Nina coming to an end