Daffodils in December, Climate Change or El Niño?

22 December by Miriam Heale


December temperatures in London have been warmer than July’s and the scientists believe it is both the effects of Climate Change and El Niño combined; “We expect 2016 to be the warmest year ever, primarily because of climate change but around 25% because of El Niño,” said Adam Scaife, Head of Met Office long- range forecasting, who added that El Niño was not linked directly to climate change but exacerbates its effects.

According to the UK Met Office, the exceptional warmth in Britain and northern continental Europe is linked to the strongest El Niño ever recorded. “What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Scaife.  With temperatures closer to that of Spring, hence the blooming daffodils.

El Niño is a cyclical event, named after the birth of Christ because it traditionally occurs in Latin America around Christmas and as it raises temperatures in the equatorial Pacific by several degrees, the consequences can be dramatic. Monsoons and trade winds are disrupted, leading to cyclones, droughts and floods.

According to Scaife, “we cannot attribute the recent floods [in Britain] to the El Niño, but in early winter [during El Niño years] we tend to have a strong jet stream which brings us mild conditions. In late winter, January and February, we tend to get a weak jet stream which brings more wintry conditions.”

Roger Brugge, a senior scientist at Reading University’s atmospheric laboratory, said: “The first 17 days of December have been the mildest on record by a remarkable 1.1C. The average temperature during this period, of 10.6C, is similar to what can be expected around the beginning of May.”

In areas which are already vulnerable due to climate change, the effect of El Niño adds to the problems.  The effects are already being seen worldwide, and nowhere more dramatically than in east and southern Africa. The El Niño effect has shifted rainfall patterns and led to severe drought. After years of good harvests and relative food security, Africa faces one of its biggest food emergencies in a generation with Ethiopia, Malawi, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe and other southern and east African countries.

Scientists say that El Niños can add significantly to climate change. Because the phenomenon causes less rain to fall in many areas of the tropics, forests become especially vulnerable to man-made fires, which accelerate carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere and reduce air quality.  

To read more about El Niño on The Guardian website