The weather phenomenon known as El Niño is currently happening in some parts of the world. However, the effects of this global weather phenomenon will cause devastating consequences.
A NASA spokesman said: “The current strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific Ocean shows no signs of waning.
“El Niño 2015 has already created weather chaos around the world. Over the next few months, forecasters expect the United States to feel its impacts as well.”
Worse still, it is forecast it could go from one extreme to another with an exact opposite weather pattern called La Niña kicking in as El Niño ends next summer.
The El Niño effect is triggered when the steady, westward-blowing trade winds in the Pacific weaken or even reverse direction.
It triggers a dramatic warming of the upper ocean in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. Clouds and storms follow the warm water, pumping heat and moisture high into the overlying atmosphere.
These changes alter jet stream paths and affect storm tracks all over the world.
The last time an El Niño occurred in 2010, which was not as severe as the 1997 event, the UK was brought to a virtual standstill with weeks of ice and snow.
The ‘Big Freeze’ that year came amid the coldest December since records began more then 100 years ago, with an average temperature of –1C.
Now El Niño has returned with a vengeance after beginning this year.
NASA observes the El Niño with images using specialist satellites.
A spokesman added: “The latest (satellite) image bears a striking resemblance to one from December 1997, by (the satellite’s) predecessor during the last large El Niño event.
“Both reflect the classic pattern of a fully developed El Niño.
“The images show nearly identical, unusually high sea surface heights along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific – the signature of a big and powerful El Niño.
“Higher-than-normal sea surface heights are an indication that a thick layer of warm water is present.”
This year’s El Niño has caused the warm water layer that is normally piled up around Australia and Indonesia to thin dramatically, while in the eastern tropical Pacific, the normally cool surface waters are blanketed with a thick layer of warm water.
This massive redistribution of heat causes ocean temperatures to rise from the central Pacific to the Americas.
It has sapped South east Asia’s rain in the process, reducing rainfall over Indonesia and contributing to the growth of massive wildfires that have blanketed the region in choking smoke.
El Niño is also implicated in Indian heat waves caused by delayed monsoon rains, as well as Pacific island sea level drops, widespread coral bleaching that is damaging coral reefs, droughts in South Africa, flooding in South America and a record-breaking hurricane season in the eastern tropical Pacific.
Around the world, production of rice, wheat, coffee and other crops has been hit hard by droughts and floods, leading to higher prices.
The spokesman added: “In the US, many of El Niño’s biggest impacts are expected in early 2016.
“Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration favour an El Niño-induced shift in weather patterns to begin in the near future, ushering in several months of relatively cool and wet conditions across the southern United States, and relatively warm and dry conditions over the northern United States.
“While scientists still do not know precisely how the current El Niño will affect the United States, the last large El Niño in 1997-98 was a wild ride for most of the northern hemisphere.
“The ‘Great Ice Storm’ of January 1998 crippled northern New England and south eastern Canada.
“Meanwhile, across the southern United States, a steady convoy of storms slammed most of California, moved east into the south west, drenched Texas and – pumped up by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico – wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Florida.”
Josh Willis, NASA project scientist for the Jason satellite missions, said: “In 2014, the current El Niño teased us – wavering off and on.
“But in early 2015, atmospheric conditions changed, and El Niño steadily expanded in the central and eastern Pacific.
“Although the sea surface height signal in 1997 was more intense and peaked in November of that year, in 2015, the area of high sea levels is larger.
“This could mean we have not yet seen the peak of this El Niño.”
In drought-stricken California and the western US, the El Niño impacts may even bring some relief.
NASA climatologist Bill Patzert said: “The water story for much of the American West over most of the past decade has been dominated by punishing drought.
“Reservoir levels have fallen to record or near-record lows, while groundwater tables have dropped dangerously in many areas.
“Now we’re preparing to see the flip side of nature’s water cycle – the arrival of steady, heavy rains and snowfall.”
In 1982-83 and 1997-98, large El Niños delivered about twice the average amount of rainfall to Southern California, along with mudslides, floods, high winds, lightning strikes and high surf.
But Mr Patzert cautioned that El Niño events are not drought busters, adding: “Over the long haul, big El Niños are infrequent and supply only seven percent of California’s water.
“Looking ahead to summer, we might not be celebrating the demise of this El Niño.
“It could be followed by a La Niña, which could bring roughly opposite effects to the world’s weather.”
La Niñas are essentially the opposite of El Niño conditions.
During a La Niña episode, trade winds are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central equatorial Pacific. La Niña episodes change global weather patterns and are associated with less moisture in the air over cooler ocean waters.
This results in less rain along the coasts of North and South America and along the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, and more rain in the far Western Pacific.
The Met Office says the consequences of this El Niño are much less clear for Britain and the rest of Europe.
The spokesman added: “Each El Niño event is unique, however, so it’s not possible to say exactly what the consequences will be for any given year.
“Predicting exactly how an El Niño might develop remains difficult, but as we move a few months ahead it’s likely forecast models will provide a higher level of certainty about what will happen.”