El Niño became infamous when it killed an estimated 23,000 people and caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage in 1997 and 1998 – and according to scientists, we could experience another El Niño of that magnitude this year. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center recently posted a bulletin stating there’s over a 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists expressed higher odds, stating that there’s over a 70% chance the weather pattern will develop this summer.

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Don’t remember what El Niño actually is? According to Andrew Freedman at Mashable, El Niño and La Niña occur due to fluctuations in air and ocean conditions in the tropical Pacific. El Niño events result from warmer than average sea surface temperatures, which add heat to the atmosphere and increase global average temperatures. These events occur once every three to seven years and can alter weather patterns around the world, causing droughts and floods ranging from the West Coast of the US all the way to Papua New Guinea.

Not only do scientists predict that El Niño will happen this year, they are also warning that it may match the El Niño of 1997 and 1998 in intensity. Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, said conditions are changing rapidly in the Pacific, and circumstances are similar to those that preceded the monster El Niño of 97-98.

Related Link: No One Will Be Safe from Devastating Hurricanes According to New RMS Research

Although El Niño hasn’t been attributed directly to human-caused climate change, the weather pattern may be arriving more frequently because of it. Scientists reported in July that El Niño is happening more often now than it had before we started heavily polluting the skies with greenhouse gases. And in January, a paper published in Natural Climate Change predicted that more extreme El Niños will occur as global warming continues.

+ NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Via Grist

Photos by Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Dave Saville (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons