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Why scientists are expecting global mayhem this winter

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El Nino related flooding in Salinas, California, February 1998--the most recent instance that the weather pattern was as strong as this year's will be.Photograph by Paul Sequeira — Getty Images

This year, El Niño is already shaping up to be one of the strongest iterations of the weather pattern since record-keeping began in 1950, Bloomberg reported. Scientists expect the weather pattern to cause global disruption, including floods and droughts.

El Niño results from a weakening of trade winds that usually push warm water West, leading to higher-than-usual temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. The weather pattern occurs every few years, leading to dramatic changes in winter weather in North America and around the globe.

Coastal regions bordering the Pacific, including the Pacific Northwest and Japan, will likely see a warmer winter, according to Bloomberg. Parts of East Africa, western South America, and southern parts of North America should expect to see more precipitation–including California, where the rain could at least partially alleviate a four-year drought. “While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought,” says Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, in a post. “California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that’s unlikely.” Other parts of the world, like Brazil, will be especially dry.

In the United States, according to the NOAA, El Niño is likely to bring cooler, wetter weather to the South and above-average temperatures in the West and North. “A strong El Niño is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter,” said Halpert.

The effect on the global economy is huge: the last comparable El Niño of 1997-1998 led to disasters that caused $100 billion in damages, Bloomberg reported. Farmers in Vietnam and Indonesia–two of the world’s top coffee producers–are likely to be hurt. African cocoa farmers, too, have blamed El Niño for poor harvests.