El Niño weakens but impacts continue

05 March 2024

The 2023-24 El Niño has peaked as one of the five strongest on record. It is now gradually weakening but it will continue to impact the global climate in the coming months, fuelling the heat trapped by greenhouse gases from human activities. Above normal temperatures are predicted over almost all land areas between March and May.

A new Update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says there is about a 60% chance of El Niño persisting during March-May and a 80% chance of neutral conditions (neither El Niño or La Niña) in April to June. There is a chance of La Niña developing later in the year, but the odds are currently uncertain.

El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, and typically last nine to 12 months. It is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It influences weather and storm patterns in different parts of the world. But it takes place in the context of a climate being changed by human activities.

“Every month since June 2023 has set a new monthly temperature record – and 2023 was by far the warmest year on record. El Niño has contributed to these record temperatures, but heat-trapping greenhouse gases are unequivocally the main culprit,” says WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo.

“Ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific clearly reflect El Niño. But sea surface temperatures in other parts of the globe have been persistently and unusually high for the past 10 months. The January 2024 sea-surface temperature was by far the highest on record for January. This is worrying and can not be explained by El Niño alone,” says Celeste Saulo.

El Niño typically has the greatest impact on the global climate in the second year of its development – in this instance 2024. 

The continuing, albeit weaker, El Niño and predicted above-normal sea-surface temperatures over much of the global oceans are expected to lead to above-normal temperatures over almost all land areas in the next three months, and influence regional rainfall patterns, according to a Global Seasonal Climate Update issued by WMO to accompany its El Niño/La Niña Update.