The world is getting hotter, with countries like India and Pakistan experiencing devastating heatwaves, and Europe and North America now in the middle of one.

Singapore is no different, with temperatures rising to 34 degree C at times.

This hotter-than-usual period is caused by a climate cycle known as El Nino, which is causing countries all over the world to experience drier-than-usual weather. The phenomenon is also responsible for the shortage of rainfall in some countries.

What is it?

El Nino, meaning “the Boy Child” in Spanish, is part of a weather cycle system in the atmosphere above the ocean (known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation or ENSO cycle). El Nino is the phenomenon that causes the waters of the Pacific Ocean to be warmer than usual.

The opposite phenomenon of this is known as La Nina, where the waters of the Pacific Ocean become colder than usual.

El Nino is officially declared when forecasters record that the temperature of the ocean rises abnormally. The trade winds in the Pacific Ocean would also start to weaken. This year’s El Nino was officially declared by Australian scientists back in May.

El Nino occurs every three to five years, but it may also vary from frequently (every two years) to rarely (every seven years). El Nino usually occurs more often than La Nina. When the ENSO isn’t in its El Nino or La Nina phase, it will remain in its neutral phase. It typically lasts for about nine to twelve months. The last El Nino occurred in 2010.

Effects of El Nino on the world

When El Nino causes the waters in the Pacific region to warm up, it releases an amount of energy so large into the atmosphere that impacts the weather patterns all across the globe.

El Nino causes natural disasters, such as droughts or flooding, by either cutting the amount of rainfall or increasing it.

The strongest El Nino recorded took place in 1997-98. During this time, Singapore experienced the largest drop in rainfall from June to September.

This year’s El Nino could create drier weather conditions in Southeast Asian countries, with Philippines already expecting a hit in food production as part of its effects. Australia also predicts that the El Nino may cut its wheat crop to the smallest in eight years.

Australian Bureua of Meteorology noted that though El Nino increases the risk of drought, it is not guaranteed. Some 26 El Nino events occurred since 1900, and only 17 resulted in widespread drought.

The Northern Hemisphere may experience El Nino through the autumn season, and there is an 85 per cent chance that it will last through the 2015-2016 winter. It may likely contribute to a less than normal Atlantic hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA). The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

The effects of El Nino differ in intensity, and there is no definite way to predict the exact effects of the natural event.

Sources: LiveScience, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and National Environment Agency

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