El Niño is a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather worldwide. While it only occurs every two to seven years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center announced the arrival of El Niño in June 2023. Experts say the typical weather patterns involve trade winds that blow West along the equator, which takes warm water from South America towards Asia. El Niño disrupts that pattern.
“During El Niño, trade winds weaken. Warm water is pushed back east, toward the west coast of the Americas,” says the National Ocean Service. “El Niño can affect our weather significantly. The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. With this shift, areas in the northern U.S. and Canada are dryer and warmer than usual. But in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast, these periods are wetter than usual and have increased flooding.” Here is more about El Niño and how it affects the impoverished.
What Does It Do?
Experts say that the warmer-than-average water temperatures that El Niño creates can affect hurricane season. According to Meteorologist Brooke Silverang via ABC 25 News, “During the hurricane season which continues through the end of November, El Nino tends to increase wind shear across the Atlantic Basin. This helps suppress the development of tropical activity in the Atlantic. On the other hand, it can also lead to stronger hurricanes in the Pacific.” Experts say that El Niño typically peaks in late fall and winter, so it will be harsher during those times.
According to Jonathan Erdman via Weather.com, “The classic El Niño winter is rather warm from Alaska into western and central Canada and then into the northern tier of states from the Pacific Northwest to the western Great Lakes. It tends to be colder and wetter than average through much of the southern U.S., particularly from Texas to the Carolinas. We found that some cities in the Southwest, Southern Plains and mid-Atlantic have their snowiest winters during El Niño.”
El Niño can last around nine to 12 months, sometimes a few years. Experts say the current El Niño will likely continue through early 2024.
The Way El Niño Affects the Impoverished
These drastic weather patterns can have life-altering effects on people living in poverty. A study even found that disease outbreaks became 2.5%-28% more intense during the 2015-2016 El Niño event. Studies have shown that El Niño affects the impoverished the most.
According to U.K.-based charity Save the Children, regions already experiencing multiple crises will feel the effects of El Niño the most. It revealed the forecasts of below-average rainfall in El Salvador and Guatemala, increased risk of landslides and flooding in Haiti and risk of flooding and food shortages in the Horn of Africa.
During previous El Niños, dramatically changing weather patterns have affected impoverished people the most. However, there are ways the more fortunate can help.
Save the Children has already compiled a list of what others can do to help impoverished families through this event. On the charity’s page discussing this issue, something brought up often is how international governments can assist these families during this time. A suggestion is that they can increase funding for early action, local and national responders, and commit to new climate finance.
Save the Children is also actively working to prepare for the effects of El Niño. On top of monitoring potential risks across regions, it is “building and strengthening social protection systems to mitigate the worst socio-economic knock-on effects,” according to its website.
– Brianna Leonard