ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As anticipated, El Niño has arrived bringing warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator.
Scientists have been forecasting the development of El Niño over the last few months, even issuing the first El Niño watch on April 13, 2023, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although it's developing over the Pacific Ocean, its impact extends far beyond those waters — even affecting Florida.
"Depending on its strength, El Niño can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world," climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center Michelle L'Heureux said in a statement.
According to the NOAA, El Niño's influence on the U.S. is weak during the summer months and more defined in the late fall through the spring. El Niño conditions typically help suppress Atlantic Hurricane activity by increasing wind shear across the Atlantic basin.
El Niño can also increase the amount of sinking motion which brings more atmospheric stability. These all can lead to a lower number of tropical cyclones, but it is not a sure bet that the hurricane season will be less active.
It formed a month or two earlier than most El Niños do, which “gives it room to grow,” and there’s a 56% chance it will be considered strong and a 25% chance it reaches supersized levels, L’Heureux said.
Usually, an El Niño mutes hurricane activity in the Atlantic, giving relief to coastal areas in states from Texas to New England, Central America and the Caribbean, weary from recent record busy years. But this time, forecasters don’t see that happening, because of record hot Atlantic temperatures that would counteract the El Nino winds that normally decapitate many storms.
Hurricanes strengthen and grow when they travel over warm seawater, and the tropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean are “exceptionally warm," said Kristopher Karnauskas, associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. So this year, NOAA and others are predicting a near-average Atlantic hurricane season.
In the past, a strong El Nino has led to record global warmth, like in 2016 and 1998. Scientists earlier this year had been saying next year is more likely to set a record heat, especially because El Niños usually reach peak power in winter. But this El Niño started even earlier than usual.