El Niño Effect

Blog Post by Christina Worsley 21 September 2015

In the last week, there's been much discussion about El Niño, but what does it mean for the UK?

El Niño is the name given to describe an upwelling of warmer than average water in the Equatorial Pacific, and is known to disrupt climate patterns around the world.

The influence of El Niño over the UK and western Europe tends to be weaker and less predictable than elsewhere because of how far away we are from the event itself. There’s a link in late winter when we can see a slightly higher risk of a colder than usual end to winter in El Niño years. Recent headlines have speculated that this is the strongest El Niño for 65 years and could bring a winter like the 2009/2010 Big Freeze. 

The message from the Met Office states that it’s still far too early to speculate about what sort of winter the UK will have due to factors such as sea surface temperature in the North Atlantic, the Sun’s output, and changes in winds high in the atmosphere above the Equator known as the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation. These factors could wipe out the influence from El Niño and all need to be taken into account when predicting the winter.

During the last El Niño of 2009/2010, winter across northern Europe, including the UK, was exceptionally cold. In comparison, the El Niño of 2006/2007 resulted in a much milder winter.

For California, the developing El Niño will be welcome news as the state has recently suffered the worst drought on record due to a chronic lack of rainfall. In previous El Niño events much wetter winters have occurred in southwest USA.

The 30-day forecast from the Met office remains one of the best ways for the public to get a long-range look at the weather, while the detailed 5 day forecast and warnings will keep everyone up to date for any signs of severe weather.


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