LONDON—El Niño, the cyclic Pacific weather phenomenon that periodically brings global devastation in its wake, is not the only thing likely to grow more extreme with global warming.
A team of international scientists now predicts that its cool little sister, La Niña, is liable to turn nasty more often too—every 13 years, which is twice as often as the historic record.
Both are observed fluctuations in mid-ocean temperatures in the Pacific that are the signal for changes in the climate pattern: both are natural, both occur as part of a cycle, and both can be traced back through human history.
El Niño is a mobile blister of Pacific Ocean heat that then affects winds and currents, and was first dubbed “The Child” by Peruvian fishermen, who noticed that it tended to arrive around Christmas.
A powerful El Niño is accompanied by drought and forest fire on the western side of the Pacific, and torrential rain and floods on the normally dry eastern Pacific coasts.
Meteorologists then amended the name to label opposite phase of what they call the “El Niño southern oscillation”.
With La Niña, unseasonally cold sea surface temperatures in the Pacific create a temperature gradient that can intensify droughts in the American south-west, trigger floods in the western Pacific, and hurricanes in the Atlantic.
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