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El Niño extreme weather events to double

Is Sacramento going to get even hotter during summers? Get used to heat waves: Extreme El Nino events to double, says a new study on extreme weather. Rain pattern research confirms the impacts of unusual and extreme El Nino events. How many times in Sacramento has the summer months hit 108 degrees F or more? Plenty, including this past July. It's similar around the world. Extreme weather events fuelled by unusually strong El Ninos, such as the 1983 heatwave that led to the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Australia, are likely to double in number as our planet warms, reports a new study published January 19, 2014, "Increasing frequency of extreme El Niño events due to greenhouse warming," in the journal Nature Climate Change.

El Niño events to double: Extreme weather patterns predicted in new study.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

An international team of scientists from organizations including the ARC Center of Excellence for Climate System Science (CoECSS), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and CSIRO, published their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. The models suggest that extreme El Niños should now be happening twice as often: about once every decade since 1990 and continuing until 2090. You can also see a January 19, 2014 New Scientist news article, "Devastating El Niño events to double this century." In the previous 100 years it was once every 20 years, says the New Scientist article.

"We currently experience an unusually strong El Niño event every 20 years. Our research shows this will double to one event every 10 years," said co-author, Dr Agus Santoso of CoECSS, according to the January 19, 2014 news release, Get used to heat waves: Extreme El Nino events to double. "El Nino events are a multi-dimensional problem, and only now are we starting to understand better how they respond to global warming," said Dr Santoso in the news release. Extreme El Niño events develop differently from standard El Ninos, which first appear in the western Pacific. Extreme El Nino's occur when sea surface temperatures exceeding 28°C develop in the normally cold and dry eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This different location for the origin of the temperature increase causes massive changes in global rainfall patterns.

"The question of how global warming will change the frequency of extreme El Niño events has challenged scientists for more than 20 years," said co-author Dr Mike McPhaden of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the news release. "This research is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results," said Dr McPhaden in the news release.

The impacts of extreme El Niño events extend to every continent across the globe

The 1997-98 event alone caused $35 US billion in damage and claimed an estimated 23,000 human lives worldwide. "During an extreme El Niño event countries in the western Pacific, such as Australia and Indonesia, experienced devastating droughts and wild fires, while catastrophic floods occurred in the eastern equatorial region of Ecuador and northern Peru," said lead author, CSIRO's Dr Wenju Cai, according to the news release.

In Australia, the drought and dry conditions induced by the 1982-83 extreme El Niño preconditioned the Ash Wednesday Bushfire in southeast Australia, leading to 75 fatalities. To achieve their results, the team examined 20 climate models that consistently simulate major rainfall reorganization during extreme El Niño events. They found a substantial increase in events from the present-day through the next 100 years as the eastern Pacific Ocean warmed in response to global warming.

"This latest research based on rainfall patterns, suggests that extreme El Niño events are likely to double in frequency as the world warms leading to direct impacts on extreme weather events worldwide." "For Australia, this could mean summer heat waves, like that recently experienced in the south-east of the country, could get an additional boost if they coincide with extreme El Ninos," said co-author, Professor Matthew England from CoECSS, in the news release. For more information, you also may wish to see the January 21, 2014 news articles, "Climate change could double the possibilty of “super” El Niños." For more information, you also can check out the latest news sites of the University of New South Wales. Or see the abstract of another study, "Extreme summer weather in northern mid-latitudes linked to a vanishing cryosphere."

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