Exceptionally strong El Niño has passed its peak, but impacts continue

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The powerful 2015-2016 El Niño has passed its peak but remains strong and will continue to influence the global climate, according to the latest update from the World Meteorological Organization. It is expected to weaken in the coming months and fade away during the second quarter of 2016.

Eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures were more than 2 degrees Celsius above average in late 2015, providing evidence that the 2015-16 El Niño is one of the strongest on record, comparable with the 1997-98 and 1982-83 events. It is too early to establish conclusively whether it was the strongest.

As typically happens, the El Niño reached its peak ocean surface temperature during November and December, but has since declined by about half a degree.

"We have just witnessed one of the most powerful ever El Niño events which caused extreme weather in countries on all continents and helped fuel record global heat in 2015," said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. "In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come," said Mr Taalas.

"Parts of South America and East Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought - which by its nature is a slowly developing disaster - is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, central America and a number of other regions," he said.

"The world was better prepared for this event than ever before. Scientific research conducted during this event will enhance our understanding of El Niño and the inter-linkages between this naturally occurring climate phenomenon and human-induced climate change," said Mr Taalas. "Lessons learnt from this El Niño will be used to further build our resilience to weather related hazards, which will increase as a result of climate change."

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is the result of the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. It has an irregular recurrence period of between two and seven years. Typically, El Niño peaks late in the calendar year, hence its name (Spanish for Christ Child). It causes droughts and excess rainfall in different parts of the world.

The WMO Update said that models indicate a return to an ENSO neutral state during the second quarter of 2016. It is too early to predict whether there will be a swing to La Niña (the opposite of El Niño) after that.

It is important to note that El Niño and La Niña are not the only factors that drive global climate patterns. For example, the state of the Indian Ocean (the Indian Ocean Dipole), or the Tropical Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature, are also capable of affecting the climate in the adjacent land areas. Northern hemisphere winter conditions are influenced by the so-called Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillations.

Regionally and locally applicable information is available via regional/national seasonal climate outlooks, such as those produced by WMO Regional Climate Centres (RCCs), Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs) and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs).

The joint WMO-WHO Climate and Health Office is working to coordinate efforts to manage the health risks and responses in vulnerable countries.

WMO is the U.N. system’s authoritative voice on weather, climate and water

For further information contact Clare Nullis, media officer. Tel 41-22-7308478 or Cell 41793849272. Email cnullis(at)