Chart: How El Niño and La Niña affect weather patterns

Chart: How El Niño and La Niña affect weather patterns
Chart: How El Niño and La Niña affect weather patterns

According to meteorologists, Hurricane Beryl is likely to be part of a series of extreme weather events in the Atlantic this coming season. This prediction is based in part on the fact that the Atlantic has recorded warm sea surface temperatures, as well as the expectation that the climate phenomenon known as La Niña will occur this year.

La Niña and El Niño are two parts of a climate phenomenon called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which describes temperature changes between the ocean and the atmosphere in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. These episodes usually occur every two to seven years, depending on conditions between Australia and South America, and last between nine and 12 months, although they do not always alternate and a neutral phase of ENSO is also possible. El Niño occurs more frequently than La Niña.

El Niño occurs when trade winds weaken and unusually warm sea surface waters are pushed eastward, forcing the Pacific jet stream farther south than usual. According to NOAA, this results in wetter-than-average weather in the southeastern U.S. and the U.S. Gulf Coast, but warmer-than-average temperatures in the northern U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia, Australia and central Africa can typically expect drier conditions around this time.

La Niña phenomena, on the other hand, are characterised by stronger-than-usual trade winds. While warm waters are pushed towards Asia, the west coast of America sees cold waters rise to the surface and the jet stream is deflected northwards. This means that weather patterns tend to be the opposite of those of El Niño, with droughts in the southern US but more rainfall in Australia and south-east Asia. Hurricanes are also more likely in the Atlantic basin.

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