What El Niño Could Bring to 60-Plus Cities, States, Regions, and Countries

What's to come?
April 21 2014 5:21 PM

What Does El Niño Mean for Me?

Predictions for how the weather pattern could affect more than 60 cities, states, regions, and countries.

(Continued from Page 2)
Philippines drought
A farmer sprays water and pesticide to salvage what was left of his rice plants during a dry spell in Quirino province, which is affected by El Niño, north of Manila, Philippines, on March 4, 2010.

Photo by Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters

Manila: The Philippines are typically near the epicenter of El Niño-fueled drought. El Niño years here are virtually certain to feature below-normal rainfall. Because of the strong connection, Philippines authorities have extensive early-warning systems in place, including conservative management of the water supply for metro Manila, one of the largest urban areas in the world.

Tacloban: Still reeling from Typhoon Haiyan’s strike last fall, this part of the Philippines can likely count on a break from devastating storms during 2014, thanks to El Niño.

Singapore: The city’s skyline may be blocked out by smoke from wildfires across Southeast Asia, and the shipping industry could suffer if drought hits Central America as expected: Traffic through the Panama Canal was slowed due to low water levels in 1998, during the last major El Niño.

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Jakarta: Indonesia is arguably the epicenter of worldwide El Niño impacts. Drought here is devastating for the economy, pushing up worldwide prices for coffee, cocoa, and palm oil. The lack of rain is caused by relatively cool water offshore, which reduces the energy available for rainstorms to grow.

Banjarmasin, Indonesia
A man observes a forest fire on the outskirts of Banjarmasin, Indonesia, on Sept. 8, 2006.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

Borneo: Wildfires rage during El Niño years in the Indonesian jungle, but the root cause is linked to deforestation for palm oil production. The smoldering peat lands here become the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide—behind China and the U.S.—during El Niño years.

Cairns: Drought in Southeast Asia extends southward to tropical Northern Australia, which has a similarly strong connection to low rainfall during El Niño years. The abnormally warm ocean water can also lead to mass coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef.

Sydney: El Niño is linked to hot and dry summers in southeast Australia, increasing the frequency and severity of bush fires and reducing wheat exports.

AUSTRALIA
A firefighter tries to put out a fire threatening homes in the western Sydney suburb of Minchinbury on Oct. 23, 2002.

Photo by David Gray/Reuters

Auckland: In New Zealand, El Niño manifests itself in the form of stronger westerly winds, enhancing the country’s rain shadow effects. That means, more rain in the places that usually get a lot of it, and less rain in places that are normally dry.

Kiribati: These islands are at the center of the Pacific Ocean—and thus the center of El Niño. They can expect heavy rains shifted thousands of miles eastward, away from Southeast Asia.

The Himalayas: There’s not much of a signal from El Niño across the world’s biggest mountain range, but that might be because it is incredibly difficult to accurately gather data here.

India: The forecast of an El Niño has already spooked the stock market and sparked fears of failure of the monsoon rains that most of India’s farmers depend on for their livelihoods. Even though 60 percent of El Niños bring below-normal rainfall, the water temperatures of the Indian Ocean are probably more important when forecasting the monsoon in India.

Europe

BRITAIN/
A man sits in front of a cafe near Brick Lane, London, on Sept. 22, 2013.

Photo by Kevin Coombs/Reuters

London: Far removed from the tropical Pacific Ocean, the effects of El Niño on Europe are inconsistent at best. Londoners will probably be most affected by an increase in the price of coffee, cocoa, and other agricultural commodities.

Paris: A stormy autumn could come in the form of stronger nor’easters crossing the Atlantic from the United States.

Rome: A warmer autumn could affect Southern Europe.

Amsterdam: Cold winters are sometimes associated with El Niños across Northern Europe.

Helsinki, Finland: Northerly winds from the Arctic descend upon Scandinavia every winter, but the Arctic floodgates might be especially open this year.

Moscow
People walk across Red Square during snowfall in Moscow on Feb. 18, 2009.

Photo by Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

Moscow: A harsh winter could be in the cards for Russia, but this effect is uncertain at best.

Siberia: Could be colder than normal, if that’s even possible. Seriously, it’s not a good time to move here.

Middle East: Some authors have speculated that El Niño has been linked to Middle East droughts that have worsened conflicts across the region.

Africa

Lagos, Nigeria: Warmer temperatures are typically associated with El Niño in Africa’s biggest city, but that’s mostly because the entire world warms during an El Niño. Rainfall is more closely associated with Atlantic Ocean temperatures, not Pacific.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: On the edge of the Sahara, the Sahel region is known for recurring periods of drought. El Niño may help reduce chances for rainfall.

Cape Town: Southern Africa typically has hot and dry summers during El Niño, but that’s not a definitive rule.

Uganda
Ugandan women and children walk past submerged homes in an area flooded by heavy rains in Soroti, Uganda, on Sept. 18, 2007.

Photo by James Akena/Reuters

Kampala, Uganda: Rainfall is typically heavier than average across East Africa during El Niño years, helping to boost crop production but also worsening malaria risk.

Cairo: About as far from the tropical Pacific as you can get, food-importing Egyptians will likely only be affected by this El Niño if it disrupts global grain markets.

Frozen places

Antarctica
A large iceberg breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory on Jan. 11, 2008.

Photo by Torsten Blackwood/Reuters

The Antarctic: El Niño brings warmer winds to the frozen south during the summer months of December through February, and has been linked to greater loss of ice from the Antarctic Peninsula and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These are two of the regions on Earth that contribute most to sea level rise.

The Arctic: El Niño winters tend to be cooler than average across the Arctic Ocean, but only by a degree Celsius or so. That's not enough to offset the rapid warming the region has seen over the last few decades—twice the rate of the planet as a whole. The impact of this year’s El Niño on the long-term trend toward ice-free summers in the Arctic should be minimal.

Greenland: There isn’t a whole lot of evidence pointing to impacts in Greenland one way or the other during El Niño years. Southern Greenland may be slightly warmer than normal, but El Niño’s impacts peak in midwinter, which this isn’t melt season here, so the effects on ice should be minimal.

* * *

For those who prefer maps, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory has an up-to-date searchable global database of the world on El Niño. There you’ll find a map of global temperature and precipitation anomalies during the peak of historical El Niños. For those who care only about the United States, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has a (slightly outdated) map of winter temperature and precipitation anomalies for historical El Niños in the contiguous 48 states. If you can’t wait until winter, here’s NOAA’s National Multi-Model Ensemble current global forecast for the next six months, broken into two chunks: temperature (June–August and September-November) and precipitation (June–August and September–November).

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and SlateFuture Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.

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