The waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean are heating up, scientists say, building towards a strong El Niño event that could rival the intensity of the record 1997 event that wreaked weather-related havoc across the globe, from mudslides in California to fires in Australia.
According to the latest forecast released Thursday by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, this year’s El Niño is “significant and strengthening.”
“There is a greater than 90% chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance it will last into early spring 2016,” the NOAA said in a statement.
The weather phenomenon largely became a part of the public vernacular during the 1997 El Niño. It caused devastating flooding in the western U.S. and drought in Indonesia. It was blamed for deadly virus outbreaks in Africa and rising coffee prices around the world.