El Niño—the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation ("ENSO") climate pattern—is currently chugging along, and forecasters expect it to continue for the next several months, with a 62% chance of lasting through April–June 2024. It's looking like it will be a strong event. A strong event doesn't guarantee strong global impacts, but it does increase the odds that some level of impacts will occur in places with a history of being affected by ENSO.
El Niño and La Niña are the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific—the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or “ENSO” for short. The pattern shifts back and forth irregularly every two to seven years, bringing predictable shifts in ocean surface temperature and disrupting the wind and rainfall patterns across the tropics. These changes have a cascade of global side effects.
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El Niño and La Niña have their strongest influence on U.S. seasonal climate in winter. Upstream of the United States, the Pacific jet stream strengthens and carries more storms across the U.S. South, favoring cooler, wetter winters. From the West Coast to the Great Lakes, Northern states often have warmer-than-average winters.
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- ENSO @ the Australian Bureau of Meteorology
- ENSO @ the World Meteorological Organization
- ENSO @ the International Research Institute for Climate & Society
- ENSO @ Instituto del Mar del Perú (IMARPE) (Spanish)
- ENSO @ the Centro Internacional para la Investigación del Fenómeno de El Niño (CIIFEN) (Spanish)
El Niño and La Niña have weaker impacts during Northern Hemisphere summer than they do in winter. Summer impacts include warm conditions in northeastern Australia and cooler than average conditions across India and Southeast Asia.
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On the second Thursday of each month, scientists with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in collaboration with forecasters at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) release an official update on the status of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Here is a description of the categories and criteria they use.
- Watch: Issued when conditions are favorable for the development of El Niño or La Niña conditions within the next six months.
- Advisory: Issued when El Niño or La Niña conditions are observed and expected to continue.
- Final advisory: Issued after El Niño or La Niña conditions have ended.
- Not Active: ENSO Alert System is not active. Neither El Niño nor La Niña are observed or expected in coming 6 months.
El Niño criteria
- Average sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean were at least 0.5°C (0.9°F) warmer than average (5°N-5°S, 120°W-170°W) in the preceding month, and
- the anomaly has persisted or is expected to persist for 5 consecutive, overlapping 3-month periods (e.g., DJF, JFM, FMA, etc), and
- the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific exhibits one or more of the changes commonly associated with El Niño:
- weaker than usual easterly trade winds,
- reduced cloudiness and rainfall over Indonesia and a corresponding increase in the average surface pressure, or
- increased cloudiness and rainfall in central or eastern part of the basin and a corresponding drop in the average surface pressure.
La Niña criteria
- Average sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean (5°N-5°S, 120°W-170°W) were at least 0.5°C (0.9°F) cooler than average in the preceding month, and
- an average anomaly of at least -0.5°C has persisted or is expected to persist for 5 consecutive, overlapping 3-month periods (e.g., DJF, JFM, FMA, etc), and
- the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific exhibits changes commonly associated with La Niña, including one or more of the following:
- stronger than usual easterly trade winds,
- an increase in cloudiness and rainfall over Indonesia and a corresponding drop in average surface pressure,
- a decrease in cloudiness and rainfall in the eastern tropical Pacific, and an increase in the average surface pressure.