Caribbean governments should potentially prepare for very dry and very hot conditions, without ruling out the possibility of intense storms or hurricanes.
That was the warning UWI St Augustine issued to the Caribbean that it is likely that an El Niño event will emerge in the next few months.
El Niño is the term used to refer to warmer-than-usual ocean surface temperatures near the equator in the Pacific Ocean.
In a release, UWI STA said Pacific waters have been cooler than average over the past three years, owing to an unusually persistent La Niña (unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific) which ended in March.
Now, it said, “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 may be a ‘significant’ event.”
It said research showed during an El Niño, the Caribbean is prone to be dry or very dry.
“The 2009-2010 and 2014-2016 droughts, considered two of the most severe to impact the Caribbean in recent memory, occurred during El Niño events. These events are also associated with a reduced number of hurricanes due to less than conducive conditions for development caused by stronger upper atmospheric winds.”
UWI noted that even if the El Niño does not develop, the end of the La Niña means that climate conditions will change from what the region has experienced over the last three years.
It said the Caribbean Sea is unusually warm for this time of year, which adds to the uncertainty about whether and how regional drought and hurricane-season activity will evolve this year as warm seas around the Caribbean eject more moisture and heat into the atmosphere. Very warm seas also affect coastal marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, and offshore fisheries may experience disruption of seasonal patterns and uncertain catches.
In addition to very hot days and nights and more heatwaves, the very warm Caribbean Sea may provide windows of opportunity for a very strong hurricane to develop, notwithstanding El Niño’s dampening effect, UWI said.
“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. 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.”
The Meteorological Service made a similar prediction about a possible El Niño event in its wet-season outlook.
The Met Office confirmed to Newsday that the start of the wet season has not yet been officially declared, as the conditions necessary to do so were not yet being experienced.