El Niño refers to an unusual warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile and Peru. It is known to impact weather events across the world, resulting in excessive rainfall in some areas, while causing dry spells in regions like India, Indonesia and Australia. In India, an El Niño event is strongly linked to suppressed rainfall in the monsoon season. The droughts of 2014 and 2015 were blamed on one of the longest and strongest El Niño events ever recorded, nicknamed “Godzilla”.
Another warm winter:
- According to the Global climate models, Just about a year after one of the strongest-ever El Niño events ended in 2016; there is a possibility of another later in 2017, though not of the same strength.
- El Niños have a cycle of about 3 to 5 years — and the event repeating itself so soon is unusual, though not unprecedented. The June to September monsoon season might escape the impact of the El Niño if, as expected, it develops after August — but its effects can be felt in other ways in the post-monsoon months in the country.
- Global climate models are predicting a 50% chance of a “weak” El Niño developing in the Pacific Ocean in the latter half of this year, most likely after August. Never before in the last 40 years has the El Niño returned so soon.
- Over the past 35 years, El Niño events happened in 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2012, and 2015. If an El Niño appears again in 2017, it would be unusual.
El Niños have returned after a gap of 2 years earlier, and sometimes they have not happened for 7 years at a stretch.
In any case, predictions of El Niño events made in March and early April are not very reliable due to what is known as the “Spring Predictability Barrier”. The El Niño phenomenon is in the process of transition during this time of the year; besides, it is always tougher to predict a weak El Niño than a strong one.
If an El Niño event does reappear this year, India could be looking at another warm winter.