After a Long Stretch of Record Heat, El Niño Begins to Wane

El Niño brings unusually warm waters to the eastern Pacific.

El Niño brings unusually warm waters to the eastern Pacific. NASA

El Niño, when warm waters in the eastern Pacific fuel hotter weather globally, is beginning to recede, scientists say.

El Niño took shape last summer, boosting the overall warming trend. Each of the last eight months set a temperature record, with January a staggering 1.66 degrees C warmer than the preindustrial era, according to an analysis from the E.U. Copernicus Climate Change Service. Over the past 12 months, the planet measured 1.52 degrees C hotter than preindustrial times.

The Paris Agreement aims to keep warming to under 1.5 degrees C over the long term. One year above this mark does not mean the world has breached the Paris target, as temperatures could fall again in the coming years, but the recent spate of record heat makes clear that international climate goals are in danger.

NOAA projects that El Niño will likely conclude this spring, and the Pacific will enter its cooler La Niña phase. But even as El Niño has begun to weaken, ocean air temperatures remain high, according to Copernicus. Unusually warm weather is likely to persist for several more months. Typically, El Niño drives up global temperatures in the year after its development, WMO chief Petteri Taalas said, meaning this year could well surpass 2023 as the hottest ever.


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