Australia’s weather bureau confirmed on Tuesday that an El Nino weather pattern is underway, bringing hot and dry conditions with the risk of severe fire and drought weather.
The announcement, which follows similar confirmations from other weather agencies, comes as the country bakes in unseasonably warm weather, with the weather agency warning of more to come.
Government forecaster Karl Braganza said the high surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean could affect the country until early next year.
“This summer is going to be warmer than average, and definitely warmer than the last three years,” he said.
“It is important that the current El Nino is setting that pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which increases our confidence that this pattern will last until the end of the summer,” he added.
The El Nino climate pattern occurs on average every two to seven years and usually lasts between nine to 12 months.
In July, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization declared that El Nino had begun and said there was a 90-percent chance that it would continue into the second half of 2023.
El Nino is usually associated with warming surface ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
It will bring severe drought to Australia, Indonesia and other parts of southern Asia, accompanied by increased rainfall in parts of southern South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa and central Asia.
The relationship between El Nino and climate change is not well understood.
But the Australian government’s science agency earlier this year concluded that rising global temperatures could increase the likelihood of the pattern forming, and the severity of its effects.
The Bureau of Meteorology has declared that El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) are continuing. Warmer and drier conditions are forecast for spring and summer for parts of Australia. Details: https://t.co/j4kNt3qLSZ pic.twitter.com/vFpd0x0yav
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) September 19, 2023
Warning of ‘excesses’
Record-high global sea surface temperatures have played a major role in driving high temperatures throughout the Northern Hemisphere summer, with marine heatwaves hitting the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
Braganza said the onset of El Nino in the Pacific will continue to inject heat into the planet’s oceans.
Australian climate researcher Nandini Ramesh said this year’s El Nino “is developing during some of the warmest global average temperatures in history”.
Around the world, temperature records have fallen in recent years, as climate change makes meteorological conditions more volatile.
July 2023, marked by heatwaves and fires around the world, was the hottest month on record on Earth, according to the European Union’s climate observatory Copernicus.
Climate scientist Andrew King said El Nino could exacerbate the risk of bushfires and flash droughts in parts of Australia.
“The unusually warm weather we’re seeing in southeast Australia at the moment is a warning of the kind of extremes we’re likely to see in the coming months.”
The El Nino pattern forms after consecutive La Nina years, which usually bring cooler conditions and more rain to Australia.
Australia is facing its worst bushfire season since the “Black Summer” of 2019-2020, when a series of out-of-control infernos erupted on the east coast.
There are fears that unusually wet conditions since then have accelerated forest growth, increasing the amount of potential fuel for bushfires.