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'La Nina' returns: Pacific communities alerted to droughts and floodings

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

The World Meteorological Organization has warned communities in the central equatorial Pacific to prepare for a return to drier than normal conditions and communities in the northwest and southwest Pacific for higher than normal rainfall.

The warning came with the WMO Pacific Regional Climate Center Network's declaration of La Niña for the third consecutive year in the Pacific.

According to WMO, the first triple-dip La Nina since 1950, and the first of this century is expected to bring excessive rainfall to some parts of the Pacific which could cause flooding impacting agriculture, aviation, infrastructure, health, water and indirectly affect other sectors.

Dr. Simon McGree, who heads the Australia Bureau of Meteorology's COSPPac Technical Science, advised Pacific communities to heed the correct information and warnings from their National Meteorological Services as the climate event sets in affecting weather patterns in the region.

"La Niña is a normal part of our climate system. El Niño and La Niña events swing back and forth every three to seven years on average but recently we have seen a series of three La Niña events, which is very unusual," McGree said.

La Niña refers to the large-scale cooling of the ocean temperatures in the central and/or eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, coupled with changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation, namely wind, pressure and rainfall, according to Phillip Malsale, a climatologist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program or SPREP.

During La Niña, Pacific countries in the west tend to receive higher than normal rainfall. The weather phenomenon affects Palau, mainland Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa, American Samoa, Niue, southern Cook Islands and southern French Polynesia.

The opposite impact is experienced in countries in the central Pacific, including Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau, northern Cook Islands and northern French Polynesia.

“It is important to note that every La Nina event is different and impacts vary from country to country,” Malsale said.

Salesa Nihmei, SPREP’s meteorology and climatology adviser, warned of La Nina's impact on the health and economy of Pacific communities.

“There is the risk of water-borne diseases, placing a burden on health systems. On the other hand, there are communities in the Pacific that are facing drier than normal conditions and are facing drought and shortage of water such as PNG Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu," Nihmei said.

"There is a great risk of damage to infrastructure, crops and livestock as well as food security. These impacts coupled with higher temperatures and sea level associated with climate change means people will struggle to make ends meet,” he added.

Climate experts noted that the onset of the triple-dip La Niña adds to the challenges already faced by Pacific communities that have yet to recover from the previous La Niña.

Nihmei said Pacific islanders can best prepare for La Nina by heeding advice from the National Meteorology Service. "This is a slow onset climate event, which brings risks to the community. Sectors need to communicate with NMS on how best they can prepare for such events," he added.

According to a press release from SPREP, most of the affected islands are also likely to be impacted by a La Niña-influenced South Pacific cyclone season up ahead.

SPREP cited climate models showing a general cooling to La Niña thresholds (−0.8 °C) by October and a peak toward the end of 2022.

Most models indicate a return to ENSO-neutral conditions in early 2023, indicating a relatively short-lived event, though model accuracy reduces at longer-lead times.

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