El Niño and La Niña are two phrases that’ve been tossed around a lot in Australia over the last few years, particularly after three back-to-back sets of the latter. We know the duo are often responsible for severe weather, with one bringing extreme heat and the other intense rain, but do you know how they work? With El Niño likely to arrive on our doorstop within weeks, here’s how it is expected to affect our day-to-day lives.
What you need to know
Weather bureaus have warned Aussies now is the time to prepare properties against the risk of bushfires, which are likely to threaten large parts of the country.
Though meteorologists overseas have already declared the El Niño system underway, Australian officials have stopped short, with an update expected on September 12.
Queensland, NSW and the Northern Territory are among the jurisdictions expected to cop the brunt of the extremes.
Other factors, including the Indian Ocean Dipole, on top of climate change, will exacerbate conditions.
El Niño is literally translated to ‘little boy’ in Spanish and refers to the warming of the ocean’s surface in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, in other words, he turns up the heat.
La Niña however, refers to the opposite. Translating to ‘little girl’, the system cools ocean surface temperatures and is associated with increased rainfall. The pair are two of our main climate drivers.
Why I should care
If you live anywhere near areas prone to bushfires or aren’t a fan of sizzling, above-average temperatures, then El Niño might spell bad news for you. Australia’s last El Niño was in 2019. It was the country’s hottest year on record and led into the Black Summer bushfires when more than 3,000 homes were lost and 34 people died.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, meteorologist Caitlin Minney said just last week that pretty much everyone in the country will feel the effects of the warm and dry weather.
💬 Conversation starter
Though we know that if El Niño is declared it’ll bring heat, it doesn’t guarantee a shocker of a fire season, only that the risk will be increased. After three back-to-back years of La Niña, damns are still full and the ground is still reasonably moist. And while the grass and forest has grown quickly, more drying is required to turn all that into fuel.
“The good news is wet conditions from three successive La Niña years have filled our reservoirs and provided what is essentially a buffer for the system,” Dr Francis Chiew, hydrologist at the CSIRO said.
🗣️ What they said
Climatologist Caitlin Minney: “During an El Nino, we would expect mostly eastern Australia to have lower rainfall and southeastern Australia to have higher maximum temperatures.”
The CSIRO: “No two El Niño or La Niña events are the same. It’s important to note extreme events like drought and floods can happen in the neutral phase. It’s best to think of El Niño as ‘weighting the dice’. While it might make certain events such as high ocean temperatures more likely, it all comes down to the flavour, strength, and timing”.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Dr Jared Greenville: “As we come out of a higher rainfall La Niña period and move into a drier El Nino climate, it is expected that below-average rainfall and warmer temperatures will reduce Australian crop yields and production from the previous year’s record highs”.
🗞️ For more on El Niño and La Niña
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