BoM declares El Niño

by Sophie Berrill
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El Niño

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has this week declared that an El Niño is underway.

Australians have been urged to prepare for hotter and drier conditions, as BoM has confirmed El Niño is underway and likely to persist until at least the end of February. The update comes as fires burn around the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. 

What is El Niño?

According to the BoM, El Niño events are associated with a warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific. They typically lead to reduced spring and early summer rainfall for eastern Australia, and warmer days for the southern two-thirds of the country. Meanwhile, La Niña events are the reverse, with a sustained cooling of these same areas.

While El Niño and La Niña events have previously been a natural part of the global climate system, a study released by the CSIRO earlier this year found evidence that climate change has influenced more frequent and strong El Niño and La Niña events.

Our current El Niño event follows three consecutive La Niñas in Australia and could be particularly intense, as it runs concurrently with a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). According to the BoM, when a positive IOD and El Niño occur together, their drying effect is usually stronger and more widespread across Australia.

Fire weather warnings

Greg Mullins AO, a Climate Councillor and founder of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) group, says an El Niño event can be like “putting fire weather on steroids”. 

“With the warmer and drier conditions it usually brings, we could be looking at an extended and potentially volatile fire season,” Mullins said in response to BoM’s announcement on Tuesday. 

“Already significant fires have been raging nationwide, including in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. A fire near Tennant Creek has already burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, and the entire Northern Territory has been declared a fire zone until next March. Nationally, we’re warned of a hotter, drier spring and summer.”

Climate Council calls for a stronger response to climate change

In response to the BoM’s declaration, the Climate Council has reinforced the need to move away from fossil fuels and strengthen Australia’s environment laws to consider climate impacts of any new projects. 

“The devastating extreme weather we’re seeing around the world is exactly what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades. That same science tells us we can still choose what our future looks like. Through stronger action now we can substantially limit future climate harms,” Climate Council research director Simon Bradshaw said.

“The prospect of both a powerful El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, against the backdrop of a warming planet, is another urgent call for faster action to move beyond fossil fuels and get emissions plummeting. Our very way of life, the vitality of the ecosystems that support life, and the safety of all communities are at stake.” 

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