El Niño out, La Niña in

El Niño out, La Niña in

The year 2023 was the warmest on record based on measurements done by different agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also of the U.S. and the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) of Europe. New monthly temperature records were set every month between June and December last year.

Last year’s record-breaking trend continued this year, with January being the hottest January on record, according to the C3S. This is the eighth month in a row that is the warmest on record for the respective time of the year. Sea surface temperatures continue to be at record high. The average monthly surface air temperature was 1.66°C warmer than an estimate of the January average for 1850-1900, the baseline period.

Despite the 1.66°C anomaly however, it does not mean that the world has exceeded the limit set by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which is 1.5° Celsius. The Paris Agreement refers to long-term warming over many years rather than monthly or annual exceedance.

The January record heat is not surprising. It was anticipated. The NOAA projected a one in three chance of this event happening, while climatologist Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS placed it at 50-50. The major factor for these predictions is the El Niño phenomenon which has not yet reached its peak. Our own weather agency, Pag-asa, said that a strong El Niño will persist this month.

In a few months, the situation will change. The Climate Prediction Center of the NOAA said that there is a 79% chance that a transition from El Niño to ENSO-neutral phase will happen by April to June 2024. After that, the agency said that there is a 55% chance of La Niña developing in June to August 2024. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has three states: El Niño (The warm phase), Neutral, and La Niña (The cool phase). Neutral indicates that conditions are near their long-term average.

The weakening and eventual end of El Niño is good news to our farmers in Luzon. Twenty-three provinces in Luzon and one in the Visayas are affected by a drought from the ongoing El Niño. However, the entry of La Niña is not-so-good news to some areas in the South. Northeast Monsoon and the trough of the Low Pressure Area brought continued heavy rains that resulted in landslides and massive flooding in Davao and Caraga region. A La Niña will possibly worsen the situation.

It will be recalled that in 2020, La Niña worsened the effects of Typhoon “Rolly” (Goni) in October and Typhoon “Ulysses” (Vamco) in November, which devastated the Visayas and Northern Luzon, respectively. Severe flooding and landslides in Mindanao in January 2009 could also be attributed to La Niña, as well as the massive landslide in Guinsaugon, Leyte, on Feb. 17, 2006.

Preparation is the key.


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