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Climate models indicate El Niño is near its end

There are signs of a promising shift in weather patterns that could alleviate the drought conditions gripping many regions.

Written by Shané Rudolph, Secretariat of the Agri SA Disaster Relief Foundation

According to recent reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the South African Weather Service, there are signs of a promising shift in weather patterns that could alleviate the drought conditions gripping many regions.

The transition from El Niño to ENSO-neutral conditions is increasingly anticipated by the second quarter of 2024, with an 83% likelihood of occurrence by April to June. ENSO, short for El Niño-Southern Oscillation, characterises the periodic fluctuation in winds and sea
surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, profoundly influencing global weather patterns. The three primary phases of this oscillation are El Niño, La Niña, and ENSO-neutral. Furthermore, there is a 62% probability that La Niña, known for its cooler and wetter conditions, could emerge by June to August.

Throughout February of this year, significant changes were observed in sea surface temperature anomalies across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. While the effects of El Niño have weakened, below-average sea surface temperatures have emerged in specific regions, signaling a transition towards neutral conditions. Notably, subsurface temperature anomalies have displayed a slight cooling trend, indicating the influence of an upwelling Kelvin wave, a significant oceanic phenomenon with the potential to shape and dictate broader climate patterns.

The latest forecast models, including dynamical models that are deemed more reliable for predictions during this time of the year, support the notion of transitioning towards ENSO-neutral conditions, followed by a potential shift towards La Niña. Historical data also suggests a tendency for La Niña to follow strong El Niño events, further bolstering confidence in the forecast.

This positive outlook is the result of collaborative efforts between NOAA, the South African Weather Service, and various other institutions, which continuously monitor and analyse oceanic and atmospheric conditions. While forecasts made during the spring season inherently carry some degree of uncertainty, the possibility of transitioning away from El Niño offers a ray of hope for farmers grappling with the impacts of drought. Should La Niña materialise as forecast, there is potential for increased precipitation, which could help replenish water sources and revive agricultural activities.

As we eagerly await further updates from meteorological experts, farmers are encouraged to stay informed and prepared for any forthcoming changes in weather patterns. With resilience and adaptability, they can navigate through these challenging times and embrace the promise of a more favourable climate ahead. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion, scheduled for April 11, 2024, promises to provide additional insights and guidance as we move closer to the anticipated transition period.

This article originally appeared at

Photo by Fiona Smallwood on Unsplash

Relevant Agribook pages include “Weather and climate“.