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This winter will be the warmest in recorded history, according to scientists

The year 2023 has been a hallmark of climatic extremes, with scorching heatwaves during the summer and autumn raising alarm bells worldwide. As we approach winter, the looming question is whether we are on the brink of experiencing the warmest winter ever recorded.

Prelude to an unprecedented warm winter

The period from June to October 2023 saw the global average temperature surpassing the 1991-2020 average by a staggering 0.57℃.

Notably, August and September broke all historical records, exceeding average temperatures by 0.62℃ and 0.69℃, respectively. These figures eclipsed the previous records set in 2016, signifying a consistent trend in global warming.

The remarkable heat experienced in 2023 can be partially attributed to the reemergence of the El Niño phenomenon, which returned after a seven-year hiatus. This natural event, coupled with ongoing global warming, has been a key driver in the series of temperature records shattered this year.

Projecting 2023/24 winter temperatures

In an attempt to forecast the upcoming winter trends for 2023/24, the Short-Term Climate Prediction Team at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, utilized advanced climate prediction systems to analyze global climate anomalies.

Their research anticipates the maturation of a moderate to strong Eastern Pacific El Niño, significantly influencing the winter climates of East Asia and North America.

The study underscores the combined impact of the El Niño event and the long-term global warming trend. It predicts that regions in the mid-low latitudes of Eurasia and most parts of the Americas are likely to experience an exceptionally warm winter, with a 95% probability of setting new historical temperature records.

In China, surface temperatures might surpass double the typical temperatures, potentially marking the highest winter temperature record since 1991.

The role of external forcings

Understanding climate systems involves not only internal variability but also external forcings. The consecutive La Niña occurrences from 2020 to 2022, which momentarily delayed global warming, underscore the significance of such external factors. For instance, the 2019 Australian wildfires have been linked to triggering multi-year La Niñas.

The mechanism behind this involves wildfire aerosols creating low clouds over the Southern Ocean, leading to reduced sea surface temperatures and favoring La Niña occurrences.

Similarly, research by Zhou & Liu (2023) from Sun Yat-sen University indicates that past volcanic eruptions in the Southern Hemisphere frequently led to multi-year La Niña events, confirming the influence of Southern Ocean cooling on global climate patterns.

In summary, as we brace for the 2023/24 winter, the culmination of these climatic factors paints a picture of a potentially historic warm winter. This phenomenon serves as a stark reminder of the intricate interplay between natural events and human-induced climate change, urging continued research and proactive measures to address the escalating climate crisis.

More about El Niño

As discussed above, El Niño refers to the periodic warming of ocean waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon significantly impacts global weather patterns. Unlike the normal, neutral state of these ocean waters, El Niño events cause a substantial increase in sea surface temperatures.

Causes of El Niño

El Niño originates from a complex interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. Normally, trade winds blow westward across the tropical Pacific, moving warm water towards Asia. During El Niño events, these winds weaken or reverse. This change leads to the accumulation of warm water in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

Effects of El Niño

El Niño impacts weather patterns worldwide. In some regions, it causes heavy rainfall and flooding, while in others, it leads to drought. The phenomenon often disrupts normal weather patterns, affecting agriculture, fisheries, and even the spread of diseases.

Weather disruptions

Regions around the Pacific, such as Australia, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa, often experience drier conditions. Conversely, the western coast of South America may face excessive rainfall. These disruptions can lead to crop failures, forest fires, and other ecological impacts.

Global impact

Beyond the Pacific, El Niño influences weather in far-flung locations. For instance, it can lead to milder winters in North America and intense storms in the southern United States. The phenomenon also affects ocean currents and marine life, with repercussions for fisheries and oceanic ecosystems.

Monitoring and prediction

Scientists monitor El Niño using a combination of satellite data, ocean buoys, and climate models. Predicting the occurrence and intensity of El Niño events remains challenging, but advancements in technology and understanding of climate dynamics have improved forecasts.

Role of climate change

Climate change may influence the frequency and intensity of El Niño events. While the exact relationship remains under study, researchers suggest that a warmer global climate could lead to more extreme El Niño occurrences.

In summary, El Niño is a significant climatic phenomenon with far-reaching impacts on global weather patterns and ecosystems. Understanding and predicting El Niño events remain crucial for preparing for and mitigating their effects on agriculture, fisheries, and human communities worldwide.

The full study was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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