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Thu Jun 13, 2024, 03:19 AM Jun 13

Salon: Will the La Nina cycle cool down Earth's record-breaking heat streak? Not so fast, experts caution

Will the La Niña cycle cool down Earth's record-breaking heat streak? Not so fast, experts caution
La Niña usually has a cooling effect, but it's little match for climate change
Staff Writer

The last twelve months have been the hottest in recorded human history. This relentess pattern is being driven by human-caused climate change, but also El Niño, a natural part of our global weather cycle that results in hotter temperatures. Though we are now entering the colder La Niña phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which should bring some cooler temperatures over several years, some experts say that our heating planet is so out of balance, the cooling could make little difference.

Even though our species' greenhouse gas emissions are raising Earth's temperatures to perilous levels, the La Niña phase is known to cool both ocean and land temperatures, potentially ameliorating extreme weather like heatwaves, wildfires and tropical storms.

Yet when Salon reached out to experts about what people can expect in Summer 2024, the answer was the same: La Niña is a powerful force, but climate change is an even stronger one. The summer of 2024 will, unfortunately, be full of nasty weather.

"The forecast is for hotter and drier in [the] western half of the U.S.," Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished scholar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Salon. "Influences of [sea surface temperatures] are less in summer owing to the way atmospheric dynamics works. Effects are bigger into the other hemisphere." In New Zealand, where Trenberth currently lives, residents are still seeing influences from the fading El Niño phase of the cycle. During the El Niño phase, sea surface temperatures are highest over the tropical Pacific, which means that drought is more common in various land areas. The result, as humanity learned over the last few years, is heat waves and wild fires.

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