EL NINO'S BACK IN TOWN El Niño's back with all of its implications for world climates.

For some, that is good news, but not so for others. El Niño occurs when a warm lens of surface water spreads eastward from Indonesia across the Pacific Ocean, generally reaching the west coast of South America. Since it occurs around Christmas, "El Niño" refers to "the little boy" or the Christ child. El Niño occurs every four to eight years, accompanied by relatively erratic weather in many parts of the world. El Niño's warm surface water in the Pacific replaces the cooler waters that normally upwell along Peru and Ecuador's coasts. This upwelling of cold water by the Peruvian Current is part of the normal circulation, which dominates the weather in western South America during most years. A cold Peruvian Current normally found along the tropical western South American coast tends to create dry, stable weather conditions. Any cold, moist maritime air that moves onshore typically warms and dries over the tropical land and the relative humidity declines. During these normal years, cold water of the Peruvian Current moves northward along the South American coast, then turns westward and spreads over the Pacific toward Indonesia. The Northeast and Southeast Trade Winds, which converge around the equator, tend to push this cold water westward. El Niño reverses the direction of flow, bringing warm ocean water flowing eastward along the surface of the Pacific Ocean. This suppresses the coldwater influence of the Peruvian Current, as

drier conditions in the Southwest and Northwest United States and a wetter than normal winter in the Gulf Coast states. the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) permanently positioned ocean temperature sensors across the Pacific now give up-to-date information about temperature changes at surface and subsurface locations. drought in Africa. According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. which is cool for tropical locations. Weather patterns become much more unpredictable as the wind and pressure systems around the world adjust to this large influence. and diminished rain in South and Southeast Asia. The 1997-98 El Niño was accompanied by flooding in South America. These data have not only increased the agency's ability to predict El Niño. the result should be fewer tropical storms (hurricanes) in the Atlantic. Although not everything is known about why El Niño occurs.well as the normal Trade Wind patterns. indicating an increasing El Niño. El Niño is expected to continue strengthening into 2010. El Niño's warm waters even spread along . water temperatures have been climbing higher than the monthly mean. As a general rule.Generally. the temperature may approach 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) warmer than normal. At the height of a strong El Niño. the effects of El Niño's warm water over such a large area of the Pacific Ocean tend to influence the weather globally. surface water temperatures in the tropical Pacific off the coast of Ecuador range from 70 to 80 degrees F (21 to 27 degrees C). but it has helped scientists understand the linkages to other atmospheric events. Therefore. however. Recently.

Extreme numbers (five to seven) and greater intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes may occur during years of extreme coldwater upwelling in the Peruvian Current. As a general rule. called La Niña ("the girl child"). Fish stocks along the South American coast tend to decline radically during El Niño. The variability in both intensity and frequency of El Niño and La Niña events during the last 50 years has been growing. A specific example of erratic meteorological behavior involves hurricanes in the North Atlantic. only half as many hurricanes occur during El Niño years. Climatologists and meteorologists have long connected El Niño to a reduced frequency of Atlantic hurricanes. depressing sea life and fisheries.California's coast. Many suspect that global warming is related. . a condition just the reverse of El Niño.

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