El Nino forecast to return in 2023 and could set temperature record

Boda boda rider crossing River Perkerra along Sirata–Marigat Road in Baringo County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Last month was the second hottest on record for the globe and it may indicate that 2023 will be the hottest on record.

Scientists predict that the world could reach a new average temperature record in 2023 or 2024 as a result of climate change and the return of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

After three years of La Nina weather in the Pacific Ocean, which generally lowers global temperatures slightly, the world will experience El Nino, a warmer weather pattern, later this year.

It is during El Nino that the wind blowing west along the equator is slowed, causing warm water to push eastward, creating warmer temperatures at the surface of the ocean.

According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA), the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service only March 2016 was hotter, a year that went down in history as the warmest ever recorded overall.

"El Nino is normally associated with record-breaking temperatures at the global level. Whether this will happen in 2023 or 2024 is not yet known, but it is, I think, more likely than not," said Carlo Buontempo, director of the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

He explained While human-caused climate change contributed significantly to that record, the strongest El Nino on record also played a role.

Kenya, like the rest of the world, has been grappling with climate change for years. The country has experienced longer dry spells, devastating droughts, and flash floods.

According to Evans Gichana director climate change in Kisumu County the latest data is a worrying sign for the country, which relies heavily on agriculture and is already struggling to adapt to changing weather patterns.

"We are already seeing the effects of climate change in Kenya, from prolonged droughts to flash floods. The latest data is a wake-up call for all of us to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change," said Gichana.

As forecasters predicted, the persistent La Niña, characterized by colder-than-normal ocean temperatures, came to an end earlier this year, leading to a surge in global temperatures. Rising sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are partly responsible for the accelerated warming trend.

Even though we are only three months into the year, NOAA forecasters predict with over 60 percent certainty that 2023 will rank among the top two hottest years on record, with a greater than 50 percent chance of becoming the hottest ever recorded.

"This is a clear indication of the alarming rate at which the climate is changing,"Buontempo said.

A boy fills his jerican with water at River Kambu, at Ngai Ndethya village in Kibwezi East, Makueni County. [Stephen Nzioka, Standard] 

If El Nino develops quickly and becomes intense, as forecasters predict, temperatures could easily surpass all other years on record. In the past, similar patterns have led to record-breaking heatwaves, which could have devastating consequences for vulnerable populations.

Over the last eight years, the world has experienced its eight hottest years on record, reflecting long-term warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Friederike Otto, senior lecturer at Imperial College London's Grantham Institute, said El Nino-fuelled temperatures could worsen the climate change impacts countries are already experiencing - including severe heatwaves, drought and wildfires.

"If El Niño does develop, there is a good chance 2023 will be even hotter than 2016 – considering the world has continued to warm as humans continue to burn fossil fuels," Otto said.

And even with only three full months of data so far, NOAA forecasters are already over 60 percent sure that 2023 will rank among the top two hottest years, and over 50 percent sure that the year will rank as the hottest on record.

 With March temperatures ranking so high, we have a clear view of just how much climate change has advanced since 2016, as this normal month came close to matching the same month during a “monster” El Niño year. And now, forecasters are seeing indications of a rapid transition into the next El Nino for this summer.

According to the Climate Prediction Center’s April ENSO update, there is a greater than 60 percent chance that El Nino conditions will develop by the end of July. That probability goes up to roughly 75 percent by the end of August, and over 80 percent for the rest of the year.

As a result of this, NOAA has gone from ending the La Niña Warning at the beginning of March to calling an El Nino Watch just one month later.

 Ocean heat is already at record levels now that the La Nina has ended. That, alone, could provide 2023 with the potential to become a record-breaking year for global temperatures.

Based on the pattern that has played out in the past, especially in 2015 and 2016, next year will likely be even hotter.

The world's average global temperature is now 1.2C higher than in pre-industrial times, Copernicus said.

Despite pledges from most of the world's largest emitters to eventually reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero, the emissions increased last year.