Say goodbye to El Niño, and a wary hello to La Niña

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
As El Niño Exits, La Niña Promises Mayhem Worldwide

There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to come right out with it. I hope you're sitting down:

El Niño is dead, having slipped into a coma about a month ago, it was taken off life support by the Climate Prediction Center on Thursday.

I know you had grown used to us in the media citing El Niño as one of the weirdest weather events, and using this GIF, but we're going to have to put this back in digital storage for a while, until the next El Niño emerges in about five to seven years.

The demise of El Niño means that instead of milder than average ocean waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, there are now near-average to below average sea surface temperatures there.

Officially, the tropical Pacific Ocean is now in what is known as an "ENSO-neutral" state, otherwise known as "La Nada."

See the impact of El Niño in California

46 PHOTOS
California El Nino Storms
See Gallery
Say goodbye to El Niño, and a wary hello to La Niña
Snow caps the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking Los Angeles, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, after the latest in this weekâs series of El Nino-fueled storms pushed through the region. The National Weather Service said Mount Wilson, topped with broadcast antennas serving the metropolitan area, received 8 inches of snow between Sunday afternoon and Thursday morning. Other points in the mountain range received up to 28 inches of snow. (AP Photo/John Antczak)

In a photo provided by Mike Eliason, Bo Sailor of Goleta, Caif. watches as high surf crashes into the wall and spills onto Channel Drive in Montecito, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. The ocean-water-quality advisory issued Thursday came as the latest storms moved east after pummeling the region with heavy rainfall. Bacteria levels can increase significantly during and after rainstorms as contaminants in the runoff enter the ocean via storm drains, creeks and rivers. (Mike Eliason via AP)

High surf batters the break wall at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, Calif., Thursday morning, Jan. 7, 2016, as another powerful El Nino-driven storm lashed coastal areas of California on Thursday. The storm created waves that forecasters said could reach 16 feet while sending scattered thundershowers across inland areas. (Chuck Bennett/Daily Breeze via AP)

A Coast Guard ship navigates through a rough ocean off the coast of Encinitas, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. El Nino storms are producing heavy rain, large waves, and extensive damage. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
SANTA PAULA, CA - JANUARY 07: A rainbow fills the sky above the Thomas Aquinas College in the Topatopa Mountains near Santa Paula Thursday afternoon January 07, 2016 as the latest El Nino storm moves through Southern California with more rain and heavy surf. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The sun rises behind Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in this view Sausalito, Calif., after a couple days of storms. The last in a powerful string of El Nino-driven storms lashed coastal areas of California on Thursday. It came a day after the week's strongest storm drenched the state and much of the Southwest, stopping cable cars in San Francisco, flooding roadways and stranding motorists across Los Angeles, and dumping heavy snow in northern Arizona. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Pasadena Fire Department, public information officer Lisa Derderian, talks to a neighbor affected from the collapse of his neighbor's property retaining wall, after heavy mud and debris flow broke through a retaining wall in Pasadena, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Mud and debris flows down hillsides burned in a recent brush fire after heavy rain from the first in a series of El Nino storms passed over the area above Solimar Beach in Ventura, Calif., Wednesday Jan. 6, 2015.(AP Photo/Joel Angel Juárez)
A pedestrian walks in the rain at Alamo Square Park in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. The latest El Nino storm hit at the height of the San Francisco commute, causing car crashes, toppling trees and flooding streets and streams around most of the region. The California Highway Patrol estimated there were nearly two dozen weather-related crashes on Wednesday during the morning drive. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Water covers a closed Las Posas Road near Camarillo, Calif., after heavy rain from the first in a series of El Nino storms passed over the area on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Joel Angel Juárez)
A surfer rides a wave, churned by a winter storm, breaking underneath the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in San Francisco Bay. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific promise to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increase fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
A mud flow skirts a house protected with sandbags in Monrovia, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. A wildfire two years ago stripped away vegetation and loosened soil. The current El Nino system, a natural warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that interacts with the atmosphere and changes weather worldwide, has tied a system in 1997-1998 as the strongest on record. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
SOLVANG, CA - DECEMBER 25: A full moon sets over a dry Santa Ynez River on December 25, 2016, in Solvang, California. Because of its close proximity to Southern California and Los Angeles population centers and Mediterranean climate, the coastal regions of Santa Barbara have become a popular weekend getaway destination for millions of tourists each year. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CA - JANUARY 07: Bitelio Ramirez, 52, looks out over tons of trash and debris has piled up near the mouth of the Los Angeles River after two days of heavy rain fell in Southern California from El Nino generated storms. Two cranes were being used to lift out somewhere around 300 tons of trash, according to a worker on the scene. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
People stand near a sink hold caused from recent storms in San Diego, California on January 7, 2016. The first major El Nino storm of the season battered southern California this week, bringing heavy rain to the drought-stricken region and causing flooding and mudslides in some areas. Several El Nino storms are expected to hit California in the coming weeks, but experts warn that the rainfall will not be enough to help the region recover from a historic drought. AFP PHOTO/ BILL WECHTER / AFP / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA PAULA, CA - JANUARY 07: A rainbow fills the sky in the Topatopa Mountains near Santa Paula Thursday afternoon January 07, 2016 as the latest El Nino storm moves through Southern California with more rain and heavy surf. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A restaurant entrance is mirrored by flood waters after heavy rains in San Diego, California on January 7, 2016. The first major El Nino storm of the season battered southern California this week, bringing heavy rain to the drought-stricken region and causing flooding and mudslides in some areas. Several El Nino storms are expected to hit California in the coming weeks, but experts warn that the rainfall will not be enough to help the region recover from a historic drought. AFP PHOTO/ BILL WECHTER / AFP / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A City of San Diego crew member cleans up debris in a road after heavy storms and flooding in San Diego, California on January 7, 2016. The first major El Nino storm of the season battered southern California this week, bringing heavy rain to the drought-stricken region and causing flooding and mudslides in some areas. Several El Nino storms are expected to hit California in the coming weeks, but experts warn that the rainfall will not be enough to help the region recover from a historic drought. AFP PHOTO/ BILL WECHTER / AFP / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
warning light stands submerged on the Camino de la Reina which is flooded by the San Diego River after heavy rains in San Diego, California on January 7, 2016. The first major El Nino storm of the season battered southern California this week, bringing heavy rain to the drought-stricken region and causing flooding and mudslides in some areas. Several El Nino storms are expected to hit California in the coming weeks, but experts warn that the rainfall will not be enough to help the region recover from a historic drought. AFP PHOTO/ BILL WECHTER / AFP / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - JANUARY 06: Homes at Mondo's Beach between the Solimar and Faria Beach communities west of Ventura have their sea walls tested Wednesday morning, January 06, 2016, as the third storm this season's El Nino moves in with more rain and heavy surf. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Two men watch as the sun sets over San Francisco from Yerba Buena Island, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Lorisa Nelson, left, and Alana Matarazzo shield themselves from the rain Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Authorities investigate a multi-vehicle crash involving a semi-truck in the westbound lane of Foothill 210 Freeway at Sierra Madre Blvd., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. Persistent wet conditions could put some Los Angeles County communities at risk of flash flooding along with mud and debris flows, especially in wildfire burn areas. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Authorities investigate a multi-vehicle crash involving a semi-truck in the westbound lane of Foothill 210 Freeway at Sierra Madre Blvd., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. Persistent wet conditions could put some Los Angeles County communities at risk of flash flooding along with mud and debris flows, especially in wildfire burn areas. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A man walks a dog under rain clouds atop Bernal Heights Hill in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A man stands near crashing waves on the Pacifica Pier in Pacifica, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The statue of the Lone Sailor, near the Golden Gate Bridge, stands in front of a passing rain storm Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sausalito, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Rain drops bead on a car window below the Golden Gate Bridge Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sausalito, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
People make their way across a wet street near Union Square Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in San Francisco. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A residence garage is sandbagged in Glendora, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Persistent wet conditions could put some Los Angeles County communities at risk of flash flooding along with mud and debris flows, especially in wildfire burn areas. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Concrete barriers are set to protect homes from flash flooding in Glendora, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Persistent wet conditions could put some Los Angeles County communities at risk of flash flooding along with mud and debris flows, especially in wildfire burn areas. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A pickup truck makes is way down a flooded road along the Pacific Coat Highway in Malibu, Calif. after a heavy rain on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Californians were warned against abandoning conservation efforts Tuesday as several weeks of storms spawned by El Nino began hitting the West Coast. Heavy rain and snow are welcome after four years of drought in California, despite their potential for causing flash floods and mudslides. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
A group of people walk in the rain along the waterfront Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sausalito, Calif. Californians were warned against abandoning conservation efforts Tuesday as several weeks of storms spawned by El Nino began hitting the West Coast. Heavy rain and snow are welcome after four years of drought in California, despite their potential for causing flash floods and mudslides. But even a very wet winter won't be enough to replenish water supplies depleted by four years of drought. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Mike Thawley fills a sandbag Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in San Anselmo, Calif. Californians were warned against abandoning conservation efforts Tuesday as several weeks of storms spawned by El Nino began hitting the West Coast. Heavy rain and snow are welcome after four years of drought in California, despite their potential for causing flash floods and mudslides. But even a very wet winter won't be enough to replenish water supplies depleted by four years of drought. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Richard Polich crosses a street in the rain on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in San Francisco. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Women stand in the rain while visiting the Yee Tock Chee waterfront park on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sausalito, Calif. Californians were warned against abandoning conservation efforts Tuesday as several weeks of storms spawned by El Nino began hitting the West Coast. Heavy rain and snow are welcome after four years of drought in California, despite their potential for causing flash floods and mudslides. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Rainwater spills over a clogged storm drain Tuesday, Jan 5, 2016, in San Leandro, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Vehicles slow on Interstate 80 during a winter rain storm Tuesday, Jan 5, 2016, in San Leandro, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Plastic covers the roof of a home to shield it from rain during a winter storm Tuesday, Jan 5, 2016, in San Leandro, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Chris Lene sweeps water out of one of the businesses in the building he owns that was flooded by rain water, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific promise to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increase fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Chris Lene sweeps water out of one of the businesses in the building he owns that was flooded by rain water, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific promise to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increase fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A car navigates through a flood water as it turns into a parking lot Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific promise to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increase fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A man rides his bike past a flooded roadway Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Mill Valley, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Traffic maneuvers around a flooded roadway from high tides and rain Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Mill Valley, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Traffic crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in the rain Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in this view from Sausalito, Calif. El Nino storms lined up in the Pacific, promising to drench parts of the West for more than two weeks and increasing fears of mudslides and flash floods in regions stripped bare by wildfires. Stronger systems are predicted starting Tuesday following light rain a day earlier. At least two more storms are expected to follow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly bringing as much as 3 inches of rain. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
LONG BEACH, CA. -- TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2015 -- A front end loader and dump truck work to move beach sand to protect vulnerable areas from flooding in rainy weather during the first big storm in what is predicted to be a strong El Nino event in Southern California January 5, 2016. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

This means there is neither an El Niño or La Niña, but this interlude is unlikely to last long.

The Climate Prediction Center says the cool phase of ENSO (the acronym stands for El Niño-Southern Oscillation) will likely kick in by the fall, which would influence the weather around the world throughout the rest of 2016.

Before considering those implications, though, here's a recap of the 2015-16 El Niño, which was by some measures the most intense on record.

A hotter, more extreme planet

By altering the exchange of heat between the ocean and atmosphere, and releasing heat into the middle and upper atmosphere at a strategic location above the vast Pacific Ocean, the El Niño contributed to a host of extreme weather events around the world.

In Indonesia, for example, a drought tied to El Niño combined with illegal agricultural burning practices to produce a massive calamity in the fall of 2015. Forest fires numbering into the six figures, took place in carbon-rich peatlands. The acrid smoke caused air quality to deteriorate to dangerous levels from Singapore to Vietnam as thousands of fires burned for months.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo inspects a peatland clearing that was engulfed by fire on Borneo island on September 23, 2015.

Image: AFP/Getty Images

Peatlands around the world are a critical storage area for carbon dioxide, with most of it sequestered into the saturated soil. When peatlands are dried and burned, which can be cheaper than clearing land with heavy equipment, they release the carbon that took centuries to accumulate, emitting in a geological instant the global warming gases that nature had painstakingly deposited over many hundreds of years.

According to one initial calculation, the fires released more carbon in a two-month period than the entire country of Germany did in an entire year.

Without the El Niño-related drought, it's unlikely the 2015-16 fire season would have been nearly as destructive.

Coral reefs pushed beyond the brink

The El Niño conspired with the global warming-driven buildup in ocean heat to cause the third global coral bleaching event on record, with reefs from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to ecological treasures in Kiribati, Hawaii and the Bahamas all seeing damage or coral death.

Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the algae, known as zooxanthellae, that lives in its tissue, giving it color and nutrients. This action, caused by stresses such as increased water temperature and pollution, leaves the coral skeleton exposed, making it more susceptible to heat stress, disease and pollution.

Bleached corals can recover if the ocean waters cool or pollutants diminish. However, they can die if the stressors last too long.

During the bleaching event, ocean temperatures exceeded tolerable levels for most reef communities in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef for at least eight months, reaching as much as 4 degrees Celsius, or 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, above average.

Largest carbon dioxide jump on record

During El Niño years, the planet often sees a larger jump in planet-warming carbon dioxide, because of weather pattern changes and how ecosystems respond to them.

This year took that trend to another level, though, when the annual growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide hit its highest mark in 56 years of record-keeping.

Annual carbon dioxide growth rates, with an arrow pointing to 2015.

Image: NOAA ESRL

Carbon dioxide concentrations measured at the Mauna Loa Laboratory in Hawaii rose by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, and most likely permanently passed the symbolic milestone of 400 ppm.

For perspective, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air at the start of the industrial revolution was about 280 ppm.

"Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years," said Pieter Tans, a NOAA scientist specializing in greenhouse gases, in a statement. "It's explosive compared to natural processes."

According to NOAA, the last time the Earth experienced such a sustained carbon dioxide increase was between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago, when carbon dioxide levels increased by 80 ppm. Today's rate of increase is 200 times faster, Tans said.

Monster storms

The record warm waters of the Pacific Ocean contributed to a record high number of Category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones worldwide.

Image: NOAA

Hurricane Patricia, for example, took advantage of deep, warm waters in the eastern Pacific in October to strengthen into the strongest storm yet measured by the National Hurricane Center in that ocean basin. The monster storm had winds of 215 miles per hour, with higher gusts, at its peak.

In February, Tropical Cyclone Winston, another Category 5 storm, hit Fiji, devastating parts of the island nation.

What will La Niña bring?

La Niña tends to be correlated with above average hurricane seasons in the Atlantic Ocean, a below average season in the eastern Pacific, and a drier than average winter in parts of the West.

This is not good news for California, which did not get nearly enough rain from its El Niño winter to squelch its epic drought.

If the La Niña event is particularly intense, it could curb global average temperatures enough to end the streak of warmest years on record, but only temporarily.

El Niño and La Niña act as breaks and accelerators to a climate system that is cruising to a warmer, more extreme future. They can temporarily modulate the rate of warming, but only dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will alter the long-term trend.

Read Full Story

From Our Partners