Last year’s strong El Niño is gone. Next up: La Niña

One of the strongest El Niños in history is over, but experts predict a La Niña is on its way

water temperatures

Warm waters in the eastern Pacific caused the strong El Niño of 2015–2016. That warmth has now diminished, experts say. This image shows how seawater temperatures during May 2016 compared to those from 1981 to 2010.


Every few years, the world’s weather is thrown off balance. It happens when surface waters near the equator in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean warm up just a fraction of a degree. Afterward, some regions experience heavier rainfall than normal — and flooding. Others will battle drought and wildfires. Still others might have to contend with ice storms and other extreme weather. This pattern of disruption is known as an El Niño (El-NEEN-yo). (The name is Spanish for “the boy.”)

The most recent El Niño ran from 2015 to 2016. It was one of the three strongest on record. That event is now officially dead in the water. 

More than a year after that El Niño’s birth, the unusually warm seawater in the eastern Pacific has cooled back down. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center reported that conclusion on June 9. While it lasted, this El Niño boosted rainfall in California. It also sped up damage to coral reefs and helped make 2015 the hottest year on record.

But don’t count on weather returning to normal across the globe.

El Niño has a “sibling.” It’s a different weather effect called La Niña (Lah-NEEN-yah). It develops when waters near the equator in the eastern Pacific cool down. And NOAA now estimates that there is a 75 percent chance that La Niña will take over in the coming months. La Niña can cause droughts in South America and heavy rainfall in Southeast Asia. It also can make hurricane seasons in the Atlantic Ocean more intense. Stay tuned.

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