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Return of El Niño could lead to flooding

Elaine Brass
15th July 2009
American scientists have announced the arrival of El Niño, the climate phenomenon that has a significant influence on global weather, ocean conditions and marine fisheries.
El Niño, which arises from the periodic warming of central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, can bring unpredictable weather to the UK, such as flooding – leading to social and economic disruption and costs. It can also influence summer weather, too, bringing much warmer conditions. The phenomenon occurs on average every two to five years and typically lasts about 12 months.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the American federal agency has noted that sea surface temperatures along the equatorial Eastern Pacific, as of July 1, are at least one degree above average, which is a sign of El Niño. NOAA expects this El Niño to continue developing during the next several months, with further strengthening possible. The event is expected to last through winter 2009-10.

“Advanced climate science allows us to alert industries, governments and emergency managers about the weather conditions El Niño may bring so these can be factored into decision-making and ultimately protect life, property and the economy,” said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

In the main, developing countries bear the full brunt of El Niño, such as the El Niño of 1997/8, which caused over 2,000 deaths and global damages of approximately £20 billion. However, El Niño can bring unpredictable weather to the UK, such as flooding across the North East in August 2002 with homes and businesses being evacuated.

The UK Met Office said the emerging higher sea temperatures over the Pacific Ocean created by El Niño can also bring hotter conditions to the UK – something that has already happened at times this summer.

Dr Adam Scaife of the UK Met Office, Hadley Centre, said: "El Nino is one of the factors that can influence the UK summer weather. The emerging higher sea temperatures over the Pacific Ocean can produce a weaker westerly flow from the Atlantic Ocean and a greater tendency for easterly winds from the continent, which can bring very warm conditions to the UK."

Earlier this year, the Met Office predicted that 2009 was set to be one of the top five warmest on record, in part due to El Niño. It said the global temperature for 2009 was expected to be 14.44 °C. The warmest year on record is 1998, which was 14.52 °C, a year dominated by an extreme El Niño.

Return of El Niño could lead to flooding
El Niño could bring unpredictable weather, such as flooding, to the UK
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