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Photograph: Marcus Lenk | Unsplash | ANZAC Bridge Sydney

El Niño has arrived: The Bureau Of Meteorology has officially declared a hot, dry summer for Australia

El Niño has officially rolled in to NSW and Australia

Leah Glynn
Written by
Leah Glynn

After a mild winter and an unusually warm start to spring (35 degree days in September!), the news we had been anticipating has arrived: the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has announced Australia has entered into an El Niño weather pattern. It seems like only yesterday that El Niño’s soggy sibling, La Niña (a cold-weather phenomenon characterised by cooler temperatures, damp conditions, increased rainfall and flooding) was run outta town, and now we’re facing a summer of severe heat. So what exactly does it all mean? And just how bad are things (potentially) going to get, especially when it comes to things like bushfires? Here’s everything you need to know about El Niño.

What is El Niño?

El Niño – which translates to ‘little boy’ in Spanish – is a naturally occurring climate pattern that results in warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a weakening of trade winds and a shift in atmospheric circulation. In Australia, this results in hotter temperatures (and more individual days of extreme heat), plus an elevated risk of drought and bushfires. It’s also a key factor driving climate change.

Now for the double whammy: the BOM has also declared that a positive Indian Ocean dipole (IOD) event is happening. This is a climate phenomenon that usually unfolds in late autumn or winter, and results in decreased rainfall. Essentially, when these two weather patterns combine, it creates conditions similar to what we experienced during the devastating summer of 2019/20 when bushfires tore through NSW and other parts of Australia.

How long will El Niño last in Australia?

An El Niño weather pattern usually last for nine to 12 months, but the effects can linger on for up to two years. This current El Niño phase is expected to last until at least the end of February, 2024. The last El Niño in Australia happened in 2018/19, with the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20 a direct result of the severe conditions. 

How often does El Niño occur in Australia?

El Niño cycles typically occur every three to five years. The most recent event happened in 2018/19 and prior to that it was the summer of 2015/16.

What can we expect from El Niño in Sydney?

In Sydney, it's already a record-beating hot spring, and heatwaves are expected to continue in summer, with the number of very hot days set to rise in our city over the coming decades.

The BOM and the NSW Rural Fire Service predict that this year's bushfire season shouldn't be as catastrophic as Black Summer in 2019-20, due to three years of wet, damp conditions from La Niña meaning landscapes aren't as dry as they could be, though there are still major concerns, due to the hot start to spring drying out vegetation more rapidly than usual.

Is El Niño affected by climate change?

While El Niño and La Niña events are generally governed by Mother Nature, a recent study by researchers at the CSIRO confirmed that a rise in greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in increased frequency and ferocity of these two weather patterns. There’s also been a particular uptick in El Niño and La Niña events since the 1960s.

If you're worried about bushfires in NSW, head over here to learn more.


Want some good nature news?

A secret koala colony has been discovered north west of Sydney

A record release of endangered baby seahorses has gone down in Sydney Harbour

A healthy platypus has been found living in an urban Sydney waterway for the first time since 1998

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