The Australian Weather Bureau announced on Tuesday the formation of the El Niño phenomenon, generally associated with rising temperatures and severe droughts that could lead to devastating wildfires.
This announcement, which confirms the predictions of other weather agencies, comes as the country is in the grip of unseasonable heat.
Karl Braganza, a government forecaster, said El Niño had taken hold in the Pacific Ocean, coinciding with the unusual spring heatwave currently affecting eastern Australia.
He said this meteorological phenomenon would contribute to warming the oceans, which have been experiencing record temperatures since April.
” This summer [austral] will be warmer than average and certainly warmer than in the last three years,” he said.
In July, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) estimated the chances of the phenomenon forming during the second half of 2023 at 90%.
“The arrival of El Niño will significantly increase the probability of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many regions of the world and in the oceans,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes typically last nine to twelve months.
It is a natural climate phenomenon associated with warming ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. But the current episode “however, takes place in the context of a climate modified by human activities”, indicated the WMO.
El Niño is generally associated with increased precipitation in parts of southern Latin America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa, and Central Asia. It can cause severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia, parts of South Asia and Central America.
Global average temperatures during the three months of summer in the northern hemisphere (June-July-August) were the highest ever measured, according to the European Copernicus Observatory, for which 2023 will likely be the hottest year Of the history.
According to climatologist Andrew King of the University of Melbourne, El Niño increases the risk of fires and droughts in certain regions of Australia.
“The unusually hot weather we are currently seeing in southeast Australia could portend more extreme conditions over the coming months,” he said.
On Tuesday, particularly high temperatures, accompanied by a hot wind, were recorded on the eastern coast of Australia, raising fears of wildfires as devastating as during the summer of 2019-2020.
Since then, conditions have been unusually wet, which has helped make trees grow faster, increasing the amount of potential fuel to fuel fires.
In parts of New South Wales, temperatures reached up to 34°C, more than 10 degrees above the average for an austral spring.
Children from 21 schools in a coastal region 500 kilometers south of Sydney were sent home.
“A severe fire risk is expected in the area this afternoon due to strong winds,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.
The spring heatwave sweeping eastern Australia follows the warmest winter on record since records began in 1910.