El Niño and what it means for the UK

Forecast centres all over the world have now declared that an El Niño, the single most powerful force within our climate system, has started in the Pacific. You may think that what happens in the Pacific surely can’t have any real influence over us here in the UK. Well if you thought that, you’re unfortunately wrong!

What is El Niño?

El Niño is where the Pacific Ocean is warmed to such an extent that it essentially throws the rest of the global climate system off the rails. The complex cycle between oceans and the atmosphere means that the world’s environment is held in a delicate balance and any slight change can result in catastrophic events. Now we’ve all seen those Hollywood blockbusters that take things way over the top, but although El Niño won’t destroy London in 5 hours, it will certainly play a huge part throughout winter.

Pacific winds causing temperature differences

Across the Pacific, the usual events are that winds blow from east to west, causing warmer water to travel across to the western side of the vast expanse of the ocean. As a result, cold water is brought up from the depths around South America to replace the lost warm water in the East. The ‘upwelling’ then causes a temperature difference across the Pacific.

The warmer water in the west then causes evaporation, leading to unsettled, wet weather. The cycle is then complete when cooler air starts to descend on the eastern side of the ocean. However, signs of an El Niño start when the transfer of warm water from east to west become less distinct. Meaning that ‘upwelling’ is almost absent.

The halting of the cycle!

This brings about a halting of the cycle and creates a more even temperature spread across the ocean. So, what’s wrong with that?

Well, because the areas of warmth move, the areas of unsettled weather move too and the expected weather patterns vanish. The effects of El Niño vary across the globe, however the prediction is it will start in late August, kicking off in earnest in September.

So, what does El Niño mean for us here in the UK?

The last time we had an El Niño event was in 2010, and although the phenomenon was relatively small, the impact in the UK was pretty severe.  If you remember, Britain was brought to a complete standstill with weeks of ice and snow and an average December temperature of -10c, the lowest since records began!

The warning signs are already there of El Niño’s return, and without wanting to scaremonger we recommend everybody takes the necessary steps to ensure a comfortable winter!

Why is it essential to install insulation and heating now?

The exact timings of El Niño remain unclear, with reports suggesting it may start as soon as later August. Therefore it is crucial that heating systems are checked, and upgraded where necessary, and insulation levels are increased, if you home is currently lacking.  That means ensuring loft insulation is up to building regulations of 270mm, cavity wall insulation has been installed where and possible and poorly insulated solid brick houses have external solid wall insulation. All of these things can not only save you hundreds of pounds over the winter, but can also increase comfort and keep you safe during the big freeze.