The world’s most devastating global weather phenomenon – extreme ‘El Niño” weather events – will double in frequency to once a decade if global warming remains unchecked, according to what scientists believe is a major step forward in understanding such events.

The last extreme El Niño in 1998 resulted in the hottest year ever recorded, and the accompanying floods, cyclones, droughts and wildfires killed an estimated 23,000 people and caused $35bn-$45bn (£21.3bn-£27.5bn) in damage, particularly to food production. But until now scientists have been unable to agree how climate change will affect how often extreme El Niños strike.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, concludes that in stark contrast to earlier work, the current rate of carbon emissions would mean twice as many extreme El Niños over the next 100 years, with profound socioeconomic consequences.

‘This is a highly unexpected consequence of global warming,” said Professor Mat Collins of the University of Exeter, who is on the research team. ‘Previously we had thought that El Niño would be unaffected by climate change. Tropical rainfall conditions such as those experienced in extreme El Niños have a dramatic influence on the world, [so] the impact therefore on mankind is substantial.”

Another team […]

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