Is El Niño dangerous for you?

You live far away from the Pacific Rim.

In this text you will get more clarity about the global interconnections.

1. El Niño comes in 2020 with 80% Probability

Very early warning signal for El Niño in 2020 with a 4 in 5 likelihood

by Josef Ludescher, Armin Bunde, Shlomo Havlin, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, 31 Oct 2019

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the most important driver of climate variability and can trigger extreme weather events and disasters in various parts of the globe. Recently we have developed a network approach, which allows forecasting an El Niño event about 1 year ahead. …

In September 2019, the model indicated the return of El Niño in 2020 with an 80% probability. …

We like to note that our algorithm only can warn of the El Niño event next year but not forecast its strength and duration.

Ludescher et al.

The high probability of a new El Niño situation is bad news especially for Australia.

Further warming could affect the balance of the climate around the world.

With these news I have started the year 2020 not very confidently.

Let’s take a closer look at El Niño.

2. El Niño Southern Oscillation

What are El Niño, El Niña and ENSO?

ENSO is one of the most important climate phenomena on Earth due to its ability to change the global atmospheric circulation.

US National Weather Service

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a recurring climate pattern in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. There it changes the sea currents and the surface temperature by 1-3 °C. A change between warm, neutral and cold periods usually takes three to seven years.


ENSO - neutral periode
  • zone of warm water in the western part of the Pacific Ocean
  • at the equator
  • the warm air rises with evaporated water, flows eastwards and sinks again over the cold Humboldt Current off the South American coast
  • westerly wind above the sea surface, which pushes the warm water westwards
  • and so on

La Niña

We go on with La Niña because it is quiet similar to the neutral condition.

ENSO - La Nina
  • the equatorial trade winds become stronger, they are drawing up cooler deep water and push the warmer surface water more to the west
  • in western Pacific:
    • lower-than-normal air pressure
    • water vapor loaded ascending air, increased rainfall
  • summer monsoon in Southeast Asia greater than normal, especially in northwest India and Bangladesh
  • catastrophic floods in northern Australia
  • rainier-than-normal in southeastern Africa and northern Brazil
  • drier-than-normal conditions along the west coast of tropical South America, the Gulf Coast of the United States, and the pampas region of southern South America
  • positive impact on the fishing industry of western South America

El Niño

In the El Niño period the pattern changes totally. El Niño means The Little Boy or Christ child in Spanish. This name was used for the tendency of the phenomenon to arrive around Christmas.

ENSO - El Niño

  • the surface water of the Pacific is warmer than usually
  • the warm water pool approaches the South American coast
  • the upwelling of cool water in the east Pacific is stopped
  • rising warm and wet air moves westwards to the central Pacific
  • a lot of rainfall along the western coast of the Americas
  • drought in the West Pacific, Indonesia and Australia
  • increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and in Peru
  • death of marine animals, seabirds and corals
  • more rain East Africa in countries like Kenya and Tanzania
  • much drier in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana (southern Africa)
  • intensification of the Indian monsoon

The following map shows the global temperature increase during an El Niño event. There are influences in North America, Africa, Europe, Russia, Atlantic and Indian Ocean, North and South Pole.

Surface temperature response to an El Nino forcing, using the ACCESS climate model.

3. Oceans have absorbed 93% of the heat

To put it positively: The oceans have saved us from a catastrophic heating of our planet.

So far.

93% of the heat is going into the oceans
Image: CarbonBrief.orgCC-by-nc-nd

The image shows the importance of the oceans as a heat buffer AND the importance of the melting ice as a heat buffer too. Small changes in this balance have enormous consequences on the heating of atmosphere and continents.

In this fragile situation the oceans break new warming records year after year.

Record-Setting Ocean Warmth Continued in 2019, Cheng et al., Jan 2020

Data from earlier papers …

… reveal that the world’s oceans (especially at upper 2000 m) in 2019 were the warmest in recorded human history. Specifically, the ocean heat anomaly (0−2000 m) in 2019 was 228 Zetta Joules (ZJ, 1 ZJ=10²¹ Joules) above the 1981−2010 average.

Cheng et al.

228 Zetta Joule written out: 228,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules.

According to the study, the 2019 ocean temperature is about 0.075 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average.

The Oceans are heated not even a tenth of a degree C!

At first sight you will be surprised. But even that means a huge amount of energy. Lijing Cheng compares this to the energy release of 3.6 billion Hiroshima bombs.

4. El Niño is a fast trigger for global warming

The influence of the El Niño on the global temperature is almost underestimate. In the article How does El Nino warm the entire globe? Dietmar Dommenget and Nicholas Tyrrell discuss the effect of El Niño on the global temperature.

They have found out that the global temperature reacts very sensible on the increase of the ocean surface temperature.

If the ocean surface temperature increased or decreased by 1 C, the land temperature increased or decreased by almost 1.5 C. Essentially, we found that the global land temperature can be altered simply by changing the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Dommenget & Tyrrell

They ask themselves: “Why is the tropical Pacific so influential?

The answer is because of tropical convection – the tendency for warm air and moisture to rise high into the atmosphere.

Dommenget & Tyrrell


  1. El Niño will come in 2020 with a probability of 80%.
  2. We don’t know strength and duration.
  3. El Niño influences weather pattern around the world.
  4. El Niño is one of many triggers for abrupt climate change.
  5. Oceans store a huge amounts of energy.

Does El Nino return the stored energy?

If you want to know more about El Niño, I offer you a more detailed report.

El Niño Report