Caribbean warned to brace for El Niño
The UWI Global Institute for Climate Smart and Resilient Development and the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) have issued a joint release urging the Caribbean to pay attention, since climatic conditions are ideal for the El Niño phenomenon to affect the region, as the annual Atlantic hurricane season approaches.
“By most indications, it is increasingly likely that an El Niño will emerge in the next few months. Over the past three years, the Pacific waters have been cooler than average due to an unusually persistent La Niña. However, La Niña ended in March and the ocean temperatures in the Pacific, both at the surface and a few hundred metres below, are warming so quickly that many major atmospheric centres globally are not only warning of emerging El Niño conditions, but suggesting it might be a ‘significant’ event. The Caribbean must pay attention,” the release warns.
“To compound the issue, the Caribbean Sea is unusually warm for this time of year. This adds to the uncertainty about if and how regional drought and the hurricane season activity will evolve this year as warm seas around the Caribbean ejects more moisture and heat into the atmosphere.”
The UWI-CIMH research team points out that in addition to contributing to very hot days and nights and more heatwaves, the very warm Caribbean Sea might provide windows of opportunity for a very strong hurricane to develop, notwithstanding El Niño’s dampening effect. For this reason, the region can never let down its guard as it only takes one hurricane or storm to cause immense economic setbacks to an impacted country and sometimes the entire region. Very warm seas also impact coastal marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, and offshore fisheries might experience disruption of seasonal patterns and uncertain catches. The UWI-CIMH research also shows that the concurrent state of both the Pacific and Atlantic (both warm this year) has a strong impact on how the rainy season will unfold.
What all this means is that Caribbean governments should keep a close eye on global and regional climatic conditions over the next few months and potentially prepare for very dry and very hot conditions, without ruling out the possibility of intense storms or hurricanes.
We urge Caribbean governments, residents and other interests to continue paying close attention to shifts in global climate including the likely emergence of El Niño this year. We also urge them to draw upon the available resources and scientific expertise in the region in understanding the implications for Caribbean societies and in crafting their response.