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Super-Sized El Niño Is Over, La Niña Is Up Next

by The Associated Press /

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WASHINGTON — This year's monstrous El Niño, nicknamed Godzilla by NASA, is dead. It heated up the globe, but didn't quite end California's four-year drought.

In its monthly update Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the El Niño has ended, 15 months after its birth in March 2015. El Niño is a natural warming of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide.

"There's nothing left," NOAA Climate Prediction Center deputy director Mike Halpert said. "Stick a fork in it, it's done."

Halpert said this El Niño triggered droughts in parts of Africa and India and played a role in a record hurricane season in the Pacific. It also added to man-made warming, as Earth has had 12 straight record hot months and is likely to have its second straight record hot year.

Halpert said this will go down as one of the three strongest El Niños on record, along with 1997-1998 and 1982-83.

In parts of the central Pacific, ocean temperatures were even hotter and caused more harm than 1997-98, leaving scars "written in the geography and appearance of global reefs for decades to come," said Georgia Tech climate scientist and coral expert Kim Cobb.

Related: California's Dry February Raises Concerns El Niño Is Fading

"This El Niño has caused some of the worst coral bleaching and death of any event we've ever seen," said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator Mark Eakin. "We've had enough of this."

Some in California had hoped that the drought would be busted by the El Niño, which generally brings more rain to California and the South. But even at the start, NOAA had cautioned that the rain deficit was too big for the El Niño to fix. And while it was rainy, it wasn't enough, Halpert said.

Earth is now in the neutral part of the natural cycle of El Niños, which includes the cooler flip side, La Niña. But don't expect that to last. NOAA forecasts a 50 percent chance of La Niña by the end of the summer and 75 percent chance by the end of the fall.

La Niñas generally bring more hurricanes to the Atlantic instead of the Pacific, but doesn't have much impact on summer temperature or rain in the United States. It often features drier-than-normal conditions in the U.S. Southwest and wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

In the winter, La Niña often brings lots of rain to parts of Australia and Indonesia and cooler temperatures in parts of Africa, Asia, South America and Canada.

Cobb said her work has found some evidence, not enough to be conclusive, that man-made global warming is causing bigger El Niños more often.

Global temperatures with the El Niño that just ended have been about 0.8 degrees warmer (0.45 degrees Celsius) than the 1998 El Niño, according to NOAA.

"This has been a bellwether event," Cobb said.

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